Within the next two years, Mazda may reintroduce a rotary engine to its lineup as a range extender for an upcoming electric vehicle.

The Hiroshima-based company is well known for being one of the last companies to deploy the Wankel engine in a road-going car. Compact dimensions, diminutive displacement, and a raucous exhaust note made the engine a darling of the Fast & Furious set.

This time, Mazda is strongly considering the feasibility of taking the key advantages of a rotary engine – namely, its small footprint – and pair it with the powertrain of a new battery-powered car. In an interview with Automotive News at the carmaker’s proving grounds in Japan, Mazda’s global powertrain boss hinted strongly at the likely direction of a new Wankel engine.

“I think that’s probably what it will be,” Mitsuo Hitomi said, speaking to the potential application of a rotary engine in an electric car. With its small size, this type of engine could be placed in many different locations in an EV, freeing up designers to be creative with passenger and cargo space.

Mazda will likely introduce an electric car in 2019, first as a pure EV and followed shortly by the model with a range extender. It’s believed the range extender could be a rotary, but Mazda has not made it official at this stage. BMW recently introduced a similar powertrain combination in its i3, using a two-cylinder gas engine that powers up only when the car’s batteries are crying for additional electrons.

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Alert readers will recall the Mazda2 RE, an electric vehicle concept with a rotary range extender shown in 2013. That car had a 0.33-liter engine paired with the electric motor for a total range of over 200 miles. For comparison, the RX-8 – the last Mazda to use a rotary engine in America – had an engine displacement of 1.3 liters. It departed our showrooms in 2012.

Mazda has a lot of brand equity in the words ‘rotary engine’ and it would be a smart play in the increasingly crowded EV market if they leverage that unique advantage.

This year’s Tokyo Motor Show will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cosmo 110S sports car, the sleek beauty which was Mazda’s first rotary-powered car. It would not be a stretch to speculate that Mazda will take the opportunity to show off its new rotary technology at that time. The Tokyo Motor Show begins next Wednesday, Oct 25.

Automotive News