Mazda Rotary Engine Returning

Mazda rotary engine returning, in an autonomous Toyota delivery vehicle

With the return of the Toyota Supra, the Lotus Esprit and Mazda RX-7 probably share the trophy for hardcore sports cars we'd most like sequels for. The Esprit's too hopeless to consider. Mazda continues to speak in riddles about a new RX-7, but the company has confirmed that the RX-7's heart will return: The company's building a rotary-engined range-extender engine for an autonomous Toyota.

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Toyota announced its e-Palette autonomous electric delivery vehicle. The e-Palette will come in bus, shuttle, and car versions to service the delivery needs of companies like Amazon, Pizza Hut, and Uber. They'll also be built in custom configurations such as mobile hotel rooms and emergency command centers.

Toyota owns 5.25 percent of Mazda, the two automakers recently signed a deal to open a factory in Alabama, and Mazda's known for ace work with small engines. It's not surprising that Toyota chose Mazda for help with the e-Palette, but the rotary aspect is novel. Mazda U.S. president Masahiro Moro said, "This is a very suitable engine to run a generator because it's compact and lightweight, with no noise or vibration, and it has very good fuel economy." There have been rumors of this development previously, as far back as 2016, then again last October in reference to an electric architecture Mazda intended for release in 2019, but Toyota was never mentioned.

As to pining for that RX-7 redux, Mazda's head of powertrain said the company's overcome the technical issues of a sports-car-sized rotary engine — the challenge is making a business case for such a sports car. We think the RX-VISION made the case three years ago, and it's already fitted with the Skyactiv-R rotary. Separately, a Toyota spokesman added that the two companies are looking into whether the rotary can be useful beyond the electric car. That's not much to go on when it comes to pining for another RX-7, but hope lives on a scanty diet.