However, Mazda will discontinue the sole model that is powered by a Wankel engine, the RX-8, at the end of 2011.
According to a report from Ward’s, the Japanese firm's executive officer for product planning and powertrain development, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, said that “there is a huge discussion” within the Japanese company about whether to continue its development or not.
Fujiwara admitted that economic issues have made some of the executives start looking for programs to cancel – and the rotary engine may just be on that list. But the reasons behind their decision could be more than just about cutting down on costs.
Even though admired for its sophistication, its low center of gravity and its high-revving nature, the Wankel still has some inherent problems including, increased fuel and oil consumption, questions about durability and high CO2 emissions.
Fujiwara told Ward’s that, even though the engine’s development has been put on hold for the time being, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the end of the road for the Wankel. In fact, he is one of the project’s supporters: “I have always said that rotary engines are literally part of our soul. We have to continue the rotary-engine evolution”.
He also admits that although there are three major problems with the rotary engine (probably the ones we mentioned…) Mazda has already solved two of them, but he refused to elaborate.
So what if Mazda finally decides to abandon the rotary engine after more than four decades of evolution? Will a version of the new SKYACTIV range of engines be its replacement?
Ironically, according to Fujiwara, the future of the Wankel does indeed depend on the success of the SKYACTIV gasoline and diesel engines that will eventually power almost all of Mazda’s mainstream models: “If the SKYACTIV is profitable, we get money to invest in the rotary engine”.
So far, things are looking good: 70% of sales of the facelifted Mazda2, which exceeded sales projections by more than 100% in its first month of production in Japan, have been for the 1.3 SKYACTIV model, with buyers citing its extremely low fuel consumption and high technology as reasons for choosing it.
The SKYACTIV engines will also power the facelifted Mazda3 as well as the all-new CX-5 crossover, and if initial projections prove to be correct, Mazda will secure the necessary funds to continue the Wankel’s development.
After all, it is an important part of its DNA – it even powered the only Japanese car to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Plus, we can’t wait for a worthy successor to the RX-8: that Shinari concept looks quite an enticing candidate, doesn’t it?