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Mazda Builds Its Last Rotary Engine, For Now 27
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, Kurt, Mazda, Mazda RX-8, News, Rotary Engine on 06 27th, 2012

The 2011 Mazda RX-8 GT – Image: Mazda

On Friday, June 22, Motor Authority notes that the last rotary engine powered car, an RX-8 Spirit R, rolled off of Mazda’s assembly line in Japan. After a lifespan in production vehicles stretching some 45 years, poor fuel economy and high emissions killed what fans would argue is the smoothest engine ever built.

On paper, it’s easy to point out the advantages of a rotary engine. They’re small and lightweight, and consist of far fewer internal components than a piston engine. When properly tuned, rotary engines are exceptionally smooth and produce a surprising amount of power for their size.

On the downside, early rotary engines had problems with apex oil seals, and high oil consumption became an associated trademark of rotary power (although, by design, all rotary engines consume some oil). While theoretically simpler than piston engines, rotary engines proved difficult for some dealerships to master, leading to a hit or miss service experience. Finally, to make decent power, rotary engines need to be run to high RPMs, sucking down an impressive amount of fuel in the process.

While the Renesis (short for “Rotary Genesis”) engine introduced in the Mazda RX-8 was as step forward in engine design, the elemental problems still existed. Customers complained of poor fuel economy and high oil consumption, and even print magazines panned the car for being down on power unless revved to the sky. By 2010, all this proved to be a moot point when the Renesis engine failed to meet Euro 5 emission standards, and was dropped from Mazda’s lineup in Europe. American sales ended in 2011, although there are still plenty of RX-8s to be had from dealer inventory.

What happens next is the big question for Mazda. The rotary engine is elemental to Mazda’s history, especially in relation to sports cars. Still, the company is struggling financially at the moment, and has placed all its chips on the SkyActiv marker. Ironically, for the rotary engine to be reborn, Mazda needs its SkyActiv fuel-sipping technology to be a commercial success.

We’ve driven enough rotary-engined cars over the years to know this much: the automotive landscape is that much bleaker without a Wankel-engined sports car alternative from Mazda. We hope this is a temporary gap, not a permanent one.

Mazda’s Rotary Engine Program Could Be Done 9
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, Kurt, Mazda, News, Rotary Engine on 08 9th, 2011

The 2011 Mazda RX-8. Image: Mazda

It’s been 44 years since Mazda first launched the Cosmo with an unconventional rotary engine. In the years since, Mazda has become synonymous with rotary engines, despite the fact that piston-engine vehicles make up the lion’s share of their worldwide sales. Certainly no manufacturer has done more to develop the rotary engine than Mazda, who views the technology as an essential part of its soul.

Rotary engines have some significant advantages over their piston counterparts. They’re smaller, lighter and far less complex, which (in theory) makes them more durable and easier to work on. Because of their size and light weight, they’re ideal for use in sports cars, and they take well to forced induction for even greater levels of power.

On the down side, rotary engines are as thirsty as big V-8s, and only make serious power at the top end of the tachometer. They may be less complex, but their unconventional design means that few mechanics have much experience with them. They tend to burn oil, which is sucked into the combustion chamber to help lubricate the apex seals. Rotary engines don’t burn as clean as piston engines, and the current Mazda RX-8 was pulled from the market in the EU last year, when it was unable to meet EU emission standards.

Mazda has been working on a replacement for their Renesis engine for quite some time, but it now looks like development has been halted for both technical issues and financial ones. Mazda’s head of product planning and powertrain development, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, reports that two of three technical problems have been overcome on the new engine, but Fujiwara wouldn’t elaborate on the issues resolved or the issues remaining.

The bigger threat is a financial one: Mazda has sunk a lot of development money into the Skyactiv engine and transmission program, which aims to produce environmentally friendly cars that are still fun to drive. That leaves very little available funding for future products, especially those with modest payback potential. Of all the options open to Mazda, shelving future rotary development, at least for now, looks like the most sensible.

Source: Wards Auto

Will Technology Save The Rotary Engine? 13
Posted by Kurt Ernst in audi, Automotive, Kurt, Mazda, News, Rotary Engine on 06 13th, 2011

The Renesis rotary engine, as used in Mazda's RX-8. Image: Mazda

The rotary engine has been a trademark for Mazda since 1964, when the then-fledgling Japanese automaker debuted their Cosmo sport coupe with rotary power. Since then, Mazda has expanded and then reduced the number of rotary engines in their product line; today, only the soon-to-be-discontinued RX-8 offers a rotary engine. The biggest reason is fuel consumption; when driven to make adequate power from its 1.3 liter displacement, the rotary engine sucks down gasoline like Lindsay Lohan knocking back appletinis at happy hour (when she isn’t under house arrest, that is). It also produces a significant amount of carbon dioxide, which is why the RX-8 has already been discontinued in the EU.

A recently developed technology, laser ignition, may help future rotary engines gain efficiency and reduce hydrocarbon output. Engines with laser ignition can be better sealed than engines with spark ignition, and that alone is expected to yield significant improvements on next generation rotary engines. Mazda will also take advantage of other technology advances, such as micro-hybrid (or mild hybrid) systems to boost low-end power output, and start-stop systems to yield improved fuel efficiency.

Mazda has also entered into an “informal” relationship with Audi regarding rotary engine development. The Audi A1 e-Tron concept featured a rotary engine powered range extender, since rotaries can be significantly smaller and lighter than conventional engines. Is there a future for the Wankel engine? If Mazda says “aye” and Audi seconds it, than chances are good that the answer is yes.

Source: Inside Line