We have some very sad news to report, rotor-heads fans: Don't expect a new rotary-powered vehicle anytime soon. This comes straight from Masamichi Kogai, the CEO of Mazda, which is the only company to ever market a commercially successful rotary-powered automobile in the world. The issue, as it has pretty much always been, is environmental.

While the Wankel rotary engine does indeed make a lot of power in a small, lightweight package, it does so while burning lots of fuel and emitting lots of noxious gases into the atmosphere, at least when running on gasoline. And that means the rotary engine will likely only ever be able to power niche vehicles. And that, in turn, means that it is very difficult to turn a profit on vehicles with rotary engines, particularly for a small automaker like Mazda.

"It has to be a viable commercial proposition. If we are going to adopt it, it has to be a product that can generate at least sales of 100,000 units a year. We have to be able to achieve a profit," said Kogai in an interview with Automotive News. Mazda sold 56,203 RX-7 models in the United States (the automaker's biggest market) in 1986. Sales of the RX-8 peaked in 2004, its first full year on the market, with just 23,690 units.

There is a sliver of hope, though. "We are the first and only manufacturer to commercialize the rotary engine. In that respect, we have some responsibility," said Kogai. Research will continue on the rotary engine at Mazda, and, since the engine will run on a wide variety of fuels, including hydrogen, it is possible that we'll see a rotary return on an alternate fuel sometime in the not-too-near future.


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  • 124 Comments
      bK
      • 1 Year Ago
      Aww shucks, but its the most logical decision. They should sell the old motors in crates.
      GR
      • 1 Year Ago
      Makes sense. Sad to say, but even the days of ICE are numbered so a rotary is pretty much dead now. The only ICE that will survive the future will be the efficient ones. I expect that by the end of my life time (I'm 30), ICE will be pretty much phased out. While there are perks to rotaries, the weaknesses of the engine design like high emissions and low fuel economy are exactly what is causing it to fail in a consumer market obsessed with fuel economy and gov't standards obsessed with low emissions. After all, everyone else gave up on rotaries decades ago and Mazda was the only hold-out. As vehicle technology progressed, rotaries just had less and less of a place. After all, the rotary engine is a small 4 cylinder-sized engine that made V6 power, but had the emissions and fuel economy of a V8. While its pros were aspects like power to engine weight ratio and weight distribution, it simply could not keep up with piston-powered engines that got more and more powerful, yet also more fuel efficient. Mazda is coming to terms with this and writing it off to history. Can't blame them. Why keep investing money to R&D for an engine when even normal ICE face extinction in the next few decades?
      Neez
      • 1 Year Ago
      My brother had an RX8 for a few years. It was the smoothest engine i ever drove, so nice.
      Design1stCode2nd
      • 1 Year Ago
      Not surprised, disappointed but not surprised, I liked my 06 most of the time.
        Buthter
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Design1stCode2nd
        I feel the same way. My '05 is my daily driver. Decent power, handles like it's on rails, but MAN is it thirsty...
      RG1527
      • 1 Year Ago
      This story makes me sad and makes me really miss my FC III Turbo I understand tho and if they can make a new RWD turbo car that is as fun as the RX7 I have no problem with this at all.
      whofan
      • 1 Year Ago
      OMC (Outboard Marine Corporation) was working with rotaries in the early 70`s. The outboards would scream. They also had them in some snowmobiles. The reliability issue was definitely there. Mazda took care of that.
      RX8R3
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is indeed very sad news. I should keep my R3 for a long time then. Too bad.
      mylz
      • 1 Year Ago
      My roommates friends that have owned these enjoyed them but hated the fact whenever something went wrong it went wrong and it would cost a lot of money to fix.
      Fife
      • 1 Year Ago
      Guess I'll be driving my 04 RX-8 with a brand new engine (thanks Mazda) for quite a while longer. Just don't try to race me at a light - My 13b has no torque.
      waetherman
      • 1 Year Ago
      But if the problem with rotary engines is that they don't combust efficiently, wouldn't that mean that whatever fuel you put in it - be it gasoline, natural gas, methane, biofuel, or hydrogen? Even if the emissions are low from some of those other fuels, why would you put it in an engine that doesn't maximize efficiency? This is not a rant against the rotary engine - I'm actually curious. Maybe I misunderstand the problems with a rotary engine. Feel free to exlpain. Or if that's too much, simply sum up.
        Typesbad
        • 1 Year Ago
        @waetherman
        A large part of the rotary problem is thermal dynamics. The nature of the engine results in a continuous cool side (intake) and a continual hot side (combustion and exhaust) as opposed to piston engines in which the same combustion chambers are cooled and heated repeatedly. There are also problems with getting an optimal air-fuel mix, leading to some of the pollutant issues, as you do not have the flexibility in chamber shape as you do in piston engines which can very their piston and cylinder head shapes. The significance of these issues is very dependent on the fuel used. I also think if there were several companies developing, marketing and improving their rotary engines, as is the case with piston engines, many of these problems would have found solutions. Consider how many engine innovations have come from different manufacturers. Multi-valve heads by one, improved injection by another, various approaches to valve timing and so on. But unfortunately we have just had small-independent Mazda plugging away and having to get a return on all thier development cost on niche sports cars. Its sad because I think the rotary had potential, but there is no doubt Mazda couldn't continue to divert sufficient engineering resources to it. Fortunately, their creative engineering has turned up useful results in other areas.
        Greg
        • 1 Year Ago
        @waetherman
        Part of the problem is that a 'normal' rotary engine has to be designed for a very wide rpm range. They've talked about using a rotary for an on-board generator for a Volt-like EV. If you can limit the rotary to a small rpm band, its features & performance can be better optimized.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
        imag
        • 1 Year Ago
        They did. The CEO is saying that they have finally thrown in the towel.
          • 1 Year Ago
          @imag
          [blocked]
        Street King
        • 1 Year Ago
        Probably, and the new one was likely just as torque-less, gas ******* and polluting as the last one they built. The engines are junk, add boost, melt rotor seals and the engine fills up with coolant. Good old FD RX7, when the "low coolant" light comes on = replace engine. Fine me an FD that's still on its original engine, not gonna happen. Those cars make great platforms for LS swaps though, killer platforms actually.
      imag
      • 1 Year Ago
      That is frustrating, but not surprising. I was really hoping they would bring the 16X to the 2+2 RX model on the Miata platform, as they had previously announced. I had hopes that their success in other areas would allow them to accept the cost. This is a sad day. A larger displacement, aluminum block rotary with new engineering and direct injection would have been a wonder.
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