In March of this year, it was confirmed by Mazda Motor Europe’s Vice President, Martijn ten Brink, that the Mazda rotary engine would be making a comeback. Under the Zoom-Zoom 2030 plan, Mazda aims to build an electric car that will make use of the barrel-shaped combustion engine purely as a range extender, thus providing optimal peace of mind to customers.
The single-disc engine will not make use of a turbocharger and will instead act as a generator that will be placed low in vehicle construction and provide a vibration-free operation that will go unnoticed by drivers. Furthermore, intentions to boost the thermal efficiency of the engine will mean improved well-to-wheel emissions, which also means improved fuel consumption and decreased exhausted emission overall.
In short, the Wankel rotary engine (so named after its inventor, Felix Wankel) is a piston-free, internal combustion engine that contains rounded, triangular-shaped rotors that spin around a shaft in the hollow barrel of the engine. Air and fuel are pumped into the spaces found between the rotors’ sides and the interior walls of the barrel, where they ignite, causing the explosive gases to turn the rotors and generate power. The rotors serve the same function as pistons in a piston engine, but with far fewer parts, making the rotary engine lighter and smaller than its piston engine equivalent.
Mazda started experimenting with the engine as early as the 1960s, and by the 1970s, a vision for a line of Wankel-powered cars was realised, but then quickly smashed by the 1973 oil crisis. The rotary engine was used solely to power three generations of Mazda’s sporty RX-7 models, which limited production volume until 2012, when the engine was discontinued the RX-8 models. Now, with a view of creating electric vehicles, the reintroduction of the rotary engine could mean big things for Mazda’s new generation of cars, and for the future of the automotive industry overall.