Mazda hints rotary engine will return in MX-30

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TOKYO — Mazda is tipping its hand about future plans for the brand’s trademark rotary engine.

Mazda, in a press release celebrating the company’s 100-year anniversary, says the rotary likely will return as a range extender in the new MX-30 electrified crossover.

That vehicle, slated for sale in Europe and Japan, debuted as an EV at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show, featuring new design cues and front and rear doors that swing opposite each other.

Now, Mazda is hinting a hybrid version using a rotary engine may be down the road. In a media release highlighting Mazda’s history of rotary-engine development, the carmaker noted a small Wankel engine was used as a range extender in a prototype Mazda 2 EV.

“A similar system could find its way onto the Mazda MX-30, a brand-new battery-electric crossover SUV arriving at dealerships this year,” Mazda said.

The all-electric MX-30 for Europe and Japan uses a relatively small 35.5-kWh lithium ion battery and 105-kW electric motor, indicating a rather modest range. But a hybrid version that taps an internal-combustion engine as a range extender could broaden appeal in other markets where drivers log longer distances, such as the U.S., by giving the vehicle a wider area of operation.

Mazda said in 2018 it would resurrect its rotary engine in 2020 as an on-board battery recharger for range-extender hybrid vehicles. The announcement was part of a plan to make range extenders and EVs account for 5 percent of Mazda’s portfolio by 2030.

But Mazda has been mum about which nameplate the rotary would reappear in.

The rotary engine, which uses a spinning blade to power the wheels, has been a Mazda pride point since 1967, when it began marketing the technology in the Cosmo Sport/Mazda S110. Mazda’s technology prowess was showcased with the 787B race car, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 1991, the first win for a Japanese brand or a car with a rotary engine.

Mazda retired the engine with the RX-8 in 2012 amid slumping sales. But in 2013, the brand offered a preview of the upcoming system in prototype form as a gasoline-powered 0.33-liter range extender in a Mazda2 hatchback reconfigured to run on an electric motor.

That vehicle’s name: RE Range Extender, short for Rotary Engine Range Extender.

Mazda says the rotary engine is well suited to the task because it is compact, powerful and quiet.

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Saurabh Shukla

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