Update: We received a response from Mazda that confirmed plans for a 2019 electric car available in battery-only and range-extended models, but there was no comment on any other details. The text has been updated to reflect this.
It may be time for rotary fans to start getting their hopes up a little for a return of the spinning triangle engine. Automotive News spoke with Mitsuo Hitomi, the man in charge of Mazda powertrains, who said there's a very good chance the next implementation of the rotary engine will be as an electric car range extender. The news source also suggests that such a vehicle could be just around the corner, since Akira Kyomen, Mazda's vehicle development program manager, confirmed to Automotive News that the company will have an EV out in 2019 in both pure electric and range-extended versions. We reached out to Mazda for more information, and a representative confirmed both the pure electric and range-extended models for 2019, but couldn't comment on anything else regarding those vehicles.
Looking back, we have reason to believe that this really might happen. As far back as 2013, Mazda was working on a rotary-engine range-extended electric car in the form of the Mazda2 RE Range Extender. It had a total range of 250 miles, half of which came from its battery, the other half from a 330 cc rotary engine generator fueled by a 2.6-gallon gas tank. More recently, Mazda has also teased rotary power with the RX-Vision concept at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show and another rumored rotary concept at this year's show, which could be the design concept teased recently.
But most convincing is the patent we found from Mazda that described a range-extended electric car that would specifically use a rotary engine. The powertrain layout looks just like the one used in that Mazda2 concept. There's also the fact that, as we've previously pointed out, and as Hitomi mentioned to Automotive News, the rotary could be a good range-extender due to its compact size and smoothness. Of course it also isn't known for being the most efficient engine, but if it isn't required to provide all the forward propulsion, it could be made small enough that it's frugal, and the added space and weight savings would be important for making the vehicle more practical, adding more batteries, or simply keeping the car lighter.
This news might not excite rotary die-hards who have been waiting for an RX-7 and RX-8 successor, but they shouldn't quite abandon hope yet. Hitomi also told Automotive News that there's still development of a bigger rotary engine with the possibility of being used in a sports car, but apparently the problem is coming up with a business case. If there are any Mazda executives reading, may we suggest a rotary hybrid sports car? You'd get the torque and efficiency of electric motors, combined with the high-rpm power of a rotary. It could be a great halo for marketing other rotary hybrids and rotary range-extended EVs, too. Think about it, Mazda.