The iconic rotary engine is still under development by a small team of engineers at Mazda, despite the company’s continuing focus on increasing its global footprint at the cost of investing heavily in the drivetrain.
Speaking to CarAdvice at the Mazda technology forum in Frankfurt last week, the Japanese company's director and senior managing executive officer of research and development, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, admitted that while work continues on the rotary engine, Mazda needs to invest its limited R&D budget into other technologies, for the time being.
"For surviving, Mazda needs money to spend on autonomous driving technology, co-pilot and next-gen SkyActiv-D, and hybrid systems and electrifications. Therefore we need the money…," said Fujiwara.
Above: Mazda’s rotary program ended with the RX-8 in 2012
"After that, if we can get money, probably we make a more higher and better brand, therefore we need a rotary engine. We are still working on a rotary engine itself with a limited number of engineers, but we have to get money now and also we have to be positioned to be able to become higher brand image. We can do that [eventually]. We don’t give up."
Furthermore, Fujiwara admitted that any upcoming rotary-powered performance cars will need to enhance the Mazda brand – not unlike Mercedes-AMG, BMW M and Audi RS models do for their respective brands – and will not necessarily become a profit centre all on their own.
"Rotary is not for getting money. Just before deciding to start again [on] rotary engines, we need money; [then] if we need more brand image, more characteristics, we need rotary vehicles.
"Normally European, or German brands have very strong characteristics cars; Audi, Mercedes-Benz or BMW, they have these kind of icon models, performance models, to pull up the brand itself. We are now not in this kind of situation."
Above: An early Mazda rotary engine
According to Fujiwara, further investment into rotary will be unlikely until the brand has sorted out its next generation of SkyActiv engines (diesel and petrol) as well as electric vehicles and associated platforms
As for how long before that happens? Fujiwara jokes that it needs to be before he retires from the company as the rotary remains a personal dream of his.
"[Timing] depends on the business itself. I am now 57-58 years old, 30 years later I will die. This rotary engine is my dream and also our chief designer, he also has the same dream, therefore I have some years left to make this dream come true. Therefore, 10 years or 20 years, no, I died [sic]. Before I retire, that’s my dream."
Above: Mazda’s 2015 RX-Vision rotary concept
Asked why Mazda decided to show the Mazda RX-Vision concept at the last Tokyo motor show in 2015, Fujiwara said the brand had anticipated investment into rotary to be stepped up but some business goals were not met, and now some shareholders are unwilling to invest in the technology ahead of other, more core technologies.
"At that time, last two years, I expected better from the business. Unfortunately our business has not so rapidly increased, therefore we need more time to do that.
“We have twice had bad experience for rotary engines for our financial situation, therefore we have to carefully consider and carefully decide how to do that. Some of the stakeholders and shareholders cannot allow it at this moment. Therefore, if we can get more robust business structure, I can explain it, I can get approval. If it’s needed."
Mazda ended production of the RX-8 in 2012. Since then the only application of a rotary engine has been as a prototype range extender for electric vehicles.