Mazda’s rotary engine program on death row

Mazda has keenly championed the rotary engine since it was originally used in the 1967 Mazda Cosmo but now the future of this iconic motor is uncertain.

The Wankel rotary has powered numerous Mazdas over the years, including the RX-2, RX-3, RX-7 and finally the RX-8. Mazda even sold a rotary-powered ute between 1974 and 1977. But in 2011 the automotive landscape is much different and Mazda big wigs are currently in discussions about where to go next with the unique powerplant.

While the engine hasn’t been officially axed altogether, current economic conditions have forced Mazda to re-evaluate several programs and the rotary engine is one of the things that could be dropped. For now, the company has halted development of the engine and will focus on new SKYACTIV technologies.

Mazda still believes in the advantages of rotary power including its light weight and fewer moving parts but its weaknesses are more apparent than ever. The rotary engine doesn’t burn as clean as a piston engine, it consumes more oil and is very thirsty for petrol. In these times of emission regulations and minimal fuel usage – the rotary just doesn’t fit in.

Mazda’s RX-8 model remains on sale for now, but will cease production after the 2011 model year. There have been plenty of rumours about a RX-9 successor with a revised, cleaner burning rotary engine which could be part of a hybrid drivetrain. But development of a new car has been stalled by the 2008 motor industry meltdown and this year’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

As it stands now, Mazda is in discussions about he next step for its rotary program with all development halted. Mazda believes that the rotary engine remains a big part of the company soul and identity but we may already be in the final days of the mass production rotary engine.

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