Mazda Details Electrification Strategy, Confirms Rotary Engine’s Return

The RX-8 was the last Mazda production vehicle to use a rotary engine. (Mazda)

In an announcement from Japan this week, Mazda—one of the few established automakers to articulate a comprehensive longterm commitment to hybridization or all-electric vehicle propulsion—said it intends to incorporate some type of electrification in all its vehicles by 2030. Yet in nearly the same virtual breath, the company affirmed its connection to “soulful” forms of internal combustion, including a confirmation that it will renew its longstanding enthusiasm for the rotary engine.

In a carefully-worded statement, Mazda reminded that many credible forecasts call for internal combustion to remain the dominant light-vehicle propulsion source for perhaps decades to come, while discretely laying out its plan for electrification—when and where it makes sense for the environment.

“Mazda will strive to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and enhance the joy of driving by deploying compact, lightweight electrification technologies while further refining the internal combustion engine, which is forecast to be equipped in the majority of new cars for many years to come,” the statement said.

“The company will introduce electric vehicles as the optimal solution in regions that generate a high ratio of electricity from clean energy sources or restrict certain vehicle types to reduce air pollution,” Mazda stated.

Rotary’s new role

The Skyactiv-X, billed as the world's first production engine to employ gasoline compression-ignition combustion, is seen by many as symbolic of Mazda’s commitment to continuing development of internal-combustion power. (Mazda)

Mazda, for decades the auto industry’s stalwart—and only—promoter of the smooth and power-dense rotary (Wankel) engine, reignited enthusiast passion with its announcement that it will revive the engine that’s so inextricably connected with the brand, even if it will be in the muted role of range-extender for plug-in hybrid-electric (PHEV) vehicles.

Various company executives had hinted in recent years Mazda had not given up on rotary-engine development and even specifically mentioned its suitability as a range-extender.

“The concept behind the rotary-powered range extender was to leverage the rotary engine’s small size and high power output to make multiple electrification technology solutions possible via a shared packaging layout,” the company affirmed.

“Taking advantage of the rotary engine’s compatibility with gaseous fuels,” the Mazda release continued, “the rotary-powered range extender is designed to also burn liquefied petroleum gas and provide a source of electricity in emergencies.”

Conceding the inevitable?

Mazda has maintained its dedication to the connectivity between vehicle and driver that comes from internal-combustion (IC) engines, advancing high-tech IC innovations such as its recently-launched SpCCI gasoline-engine that blends the attributes of spark- and compression-ignition engines (ICE Breaker!), although the engine’s availability in the U.S. market has yet to be detailed.

The company also promoted its intent to further develop the diesel engine, from both environmental and enthusiast perspectives. The company said nearly to years ago it would introduce its newest diesel 4-cylinder for the CX-5 compact crossover in the U.S.—and although the official fuel-economy rating for the diesel-equipped 2018 CX-5 recently appeared at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s fuel-economy website ( ), the figures were mediocre. Moreover, Mazda has yet to indicate in either its press or consumer materials that the diesel engine is available.

With the current announcement regarding electrification, Mazda seems to be yielding to market and other pressures to increase its focus on electrified powertrains.

In addition to its intent to have all production vehicles using some form of electrification by 2030, the company also said that about 5% of vehicles produced will be fully electric. That means two distinct battery-electric models, the company addedwith one of them being the electric-drive model employing the rotary engine to recharge its battery pack when the initial charge (from a plug-in source) is depleted.

In 2013, Mazda showed a Mazda2-based concept car that featured an electric drivetrain using a 0.33-l single-rotor engine as a range extender. The Mazda2 RE Range Extender concept’s rotary was claimed to provide an additional 100 miles-plus of range from a small gas tank.