The much talked about, on again, off again, Mazda rotary sports car appears to still be in the very early stages of development, putting doubt on previous assertions that the vehicle would be ready for a 2020 release.
Speaking with media at the Los Angeles motor show today, the Japanese company’s boss of Powertrain developments, Ichiro Hirose, admitted that while a new RX-8 (or RX-9) is his personal dream, it remains just that for the time-being.
One of the issues that appears to have thrown a spanner into the works is the ever toughening emission regulations around the world, that would put rotary engines at a disadvantage, given their generally poor efficiency.
“In terms of developing [a rotary sports car] as a product, we haven’t started yet,” Hirose said. (Which makes one wonder what this mule was about.)
“We continuously develop the rotary engine technology [but], worldwide, their are so many environmental regulations, so many thing are happening there, so we have to provide the technologies to be able to comply with all those environmental requirements,” he added, despite conceding the brand is not yet willing to leap entirely into EVs.
But despite the hurdles a new rotary engine would create for the company, Mazda insists that once it is in a more positive financial situation, it could afford the associated additional R&D costs.
“Having said that, we already understand the problems of the rotary engine, that means that we can come up with the solutions to overcome those issues, so we still continue to research and develops the technologies to do that,” he said.
Nonetheless, whilst Hirose admitted that there is a better-than 50 per cent chance the company can meet the environmental regulation challenges for a new rotary, the business case for a new RX sports car is a totally different issue altogether.
“The business case, is the biggest issue. I don’t think it's impossible to make this kind of rotary sports car, if many customer purchase [other] Mazda vehicles to get the funding to get this sports vehicle.
“Of course the vehicle program must be making a viable business case [by itself] for sure, but we have to have the starting funding to develop the model in the first place. Without that, we can't even begin the work.”
Asked why Mazda continues to pursue the rotary dream despite all the challenges, Hirose admitted that while there are some obvious disadvantages with the design of a rotary engine, it does also pose some advantages for today’s era.
“In terms of logic, when we look at the rotary engine compared to the normal engine it has some disadvantages. The biggest one is the combustion room – it keeps changing, so it means the heat is always escaping. That is a disadvantage. But for other areas, like maintaining the compression – that issue can be worked out and right now we are trying to improve our normal engines by 30 per cent. I think that our technological work for the rotary engine will eventually catch up,” he said.
Mazda will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020, when the new RX sports car was rumoured to be unveiled. Whilst that may still be the case in yet another concept form (see RX-Vision), but it’s unlikely the production-ready vehicle will see the light of day in the foreseeable future, if ever.