August 1, 2019
As reported by Motor1, Mazda has recently published two new filings with the Japanese patent office for updates to its rotary engine (or "Wankel" design), signifying a potential return of Mazda’s production of a car that utilizes the technology. The last car that used the Wankel design was the Mazda RX-8, which used the engine until the vehicle’s production was cancelled in 2011.
In contrast to the standard piston design used in most automobiles (in which the internal combustion in a cylinder forces a piston to rotate the crankshaft), the crankshaft in a rotary engine remains stationary while the cylinders rotate around the unit. As a result, rotary engines operate with less vibration and can produce more power for their size. However, rotary engines are also known to have shorter lifespans and require more maintenance, which makes them less ideal for a standard production vehicle.
Despite these challenges, Mazda appears optimistic about reviving the rotary engine for production. Speaking to Automotive News Europe in June of 2019, Mazda CEO Akira Marumoto stated that, though Mazda has “the dream of seeing one day a vehicle powered by a rotary engine,” the company has had to put the development of such a rotary engine “on the back burner [with] no time frame”.
The recently uncovered patent filings come on the heels of an October 2018 announcement from Mazda that confirmed that their upcoming electric vehicle would contain a Wankel-powered range extending engine.
It is clear that Mazda remains committed to the application of this alternative engine technology, and it will be interesting to observe how Mazda continues to innovate on the path to its “Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030” initiative.
Authors: Amanda Bertucci and Adam Voorberg