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A look back to: Mazda’s Rotary Engines and Hydrogen Initiative

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Mazda began in 1920, and had two transformations in name before they were officially called Mazda in 1931 although the cars still had the Mazda name on license plates before then. And they have become a successful company in many terms.

Mazda have gone it alone when it comes to engines, since 1967 Mazda have been producing cars with Dual Rotary Engines, in fact 1967, saw Mazda manufacture the World’s first dual rotary engine car, which went on sale. The car was called Cosmo Sport (S110). The rotary engine was invented by a German named Felix Wankel in 1957.

Cosmo Sport (S110)

“The Cosmo Sport recorded more than 3 million kilometers of road tests over six years. Its futuristic styling and superb driving performance delighted sports car enthusiasts throughout the world.”*1

First Two-Rotor Engine

The double rotary engine became a success for its role as provider to smooth driving, A year on 1968 saw Mazda deciding to expand from the Cosmo Sport car, and began installing double rotary engines in (large-volumes) coupes and sedans. 1970 saw Mazda begin exports of their dual rotary cars to the United States, which was a country with strict emission policies. Mazda were a keen contender to meet the standards, and did so, this was a result of Mazda’s aim since 1966 to reduce emissions, which saw the successful introduction of their exports within the U.S.

“The Model R100 (called the Familia Rotary Coupe in Japan) became the first product to be exported to the U.S., and equipped with the thermal reactor system, it met the current emission standards. Meanwhile, in the Japanese market, Mazda launched the first low-emission production vehicle in November 1972. This was the Luce AP, powered by the Type 12A (2 x 573cc) rotary engine, it came equipped with Mazda’s Rotary Engine Anti-Pollution System (REAPS).”*1

Mazda continued in the 1970’s to commit to their efficiency of fuel consumption, they developed a project dubbed the ‘Phoenix Project’ which aimed to become more fuel-efficient within one year by initially 20% and then with the final aim to reduce the consumption by 40%. With a Research and Development team backed by the entire company and a team who were so dedicated to a greener future from so early on, Mazda managed to accomplish these targets set by the ‘Phoenix Project’, it was cheers all around for Mazda and their green car vision.

“The success of the Phoenix Project was reflected in the sporty Mazda RX-7 (called the Savanna RX-7 in Japan) which was launched in 1978. As suggested by the project name Phoenix, it proved to the world that the rotary engine was here to stay.”*1

The rotary engine to date remains one of Mazda’s legacies and has seen many improvements and upgrades to see Mazda successfully becoming a champion of the rotary engine; some of these improvements have been the implementation of catalytic converter systems which provided lean burn and purified exhaust emissions.

Lean-Burn Rotary Engine

“Through fundamental engine improvements and newly developed systems, including the reaction-type exhaust manifold, the high-energy ignition system, split secondary air control, and the two-stage pellet catalyst system, Mazda finally completed the Lean-Burn rotary engine and launched it onto the market.” *1

Mazda went even further in 1982, when the company introduced a Turbo-charger for their rotary engines (The Cosmo RE Turbo), this was a first for rotary engined cars and again it was Mazda who had brought it to everyone’s attention and to the market!

It came with an electronically controlled fuel injection system, which provided the speed to make the Cosmo RE Turbo at the time, the fastest commercial vehicle in Japan, proving that rotary engined cars were special!

Mazda and their continual plans of advancements in the industry, soon after produced the “Impact-Turbo,” which was developed exclusively for the rotary engine and was crafted to ensure that the engine response and output was even better than its predecessor.

Mazda had developed the rotary engine and led to its advancements by example! Thanks to Mazda and the R&D team they came up with the most superior of rotary systems which were called the “Dynamic Supercharging system” (1983),  and the “Twin Scroll Turbo System” (1989).

In 1989, the Twin-Scroll Turbo evolved into the Twin-Independent-Scroll Turbo, which had a more simplified configuration. When this new turbocharger was coupled with other improvements in the engine, it provided more outstanding low-speed torque and improved responsiveness.

“Since 1983, Mazda has used a dual fuel injector system which features two injectors in each rotor chamber. Generally speaking, a small nozzle is more desirable at low speeds as it can atomize fuel more effectively for more stable combustion, while a large nozzle is better at high speeds as it can provide larger volumes of fuel to boost performance. Mazda’s electronically controlled fuel injection system was developed to control the supply of fuel to these nozzles over a wide range of engine operations. For the dual-rotor 13B-REW and the Triple-rotor 20B-REW rotary engines, both put into mass production in 1990, the dual injectors were further evolved into air-mixture injectors, which achieved more than double the degree of fuel atomization.” *1

As Mazda continued to develop their rotary engines to levels of extreme excellence, a pattern appears, a pattern that is of fuel efficiency and low emissions! 1990 saw Mazda’s refinement of their engines with the Type 20B-REW Rotary Engine and the Sequential Twin-Turbo, this progression from the 1960’s through to the 1990’s demonstrated Mazda’s commitment to R&D and they relied on their knowledge from early on through to the later period of the 90’s to establish themselves as leaders in the world of rotary engines, so much so that they even entered their road cars into race competitions.

“During development of the triple-rotor rotary engine, extensive road tests for performance and durability were carried out, including participation in international sports car races such as the famous Le Mans 24 Hour Endurance Race. All of which demonstrated how a mere production car could compete in the world of motor sports.” Mazda made racing history by entering the first rotary engined cars: here’s a link to where you can find out more about Mazda’s rotary engine race history, a few first place finishes against top competitors such as Porsche and Mercedes. http://media.ford.com/pdf/rotary6_e.pdf

“Mazda Chief Executive and President Takashi Yamanouchi recalled the victory of Mazda’s rotary engine at Le Mans 20 years ago, and called the rotary engine ‘iconic.'” *2

Mazda, it seems, have overcome all obstacles throughout the 60’s through to the 90’s and through to 2000, they are known for producing the World’s only rotary engine plant! Quite an achievement!

The latest and unfortunate ending to this story is that in June 2012 Mazda are said to be ending production of their Rotary engine cars!

Mazda will stop producing vehicles with its signature rotary engines in June next year because of poor sales and the costs of meeting emissions standards.

“Mazda spokeswoman Michiko Terashima said research and development on the rotary engine will continue, but production is now not making sense when considering the costs of meeting safety and emissions standards for new vehicles.”*2

“Mazda Motor Corp. said the latest edition of the Mazda RX-8 will go on sale targeting sales of 1,000 vehicles, but will end production in June 2012. The RX-8 is the only model in Mazda’s lineup with the rotary engine.” *2

Whether Mazda will re-start their rotary campaign, is what many green-car fans will be hoping for! This remains to be seen!

However there is always the Hydrogen initiative which could easily become Mazda’s new future even if rotary engines are not to be used within them!

Mazda’s Hydrogen initiative which started in 1993 with the HR-X2 and was unveiled at the 1993 Tokyo Motor show, the HR-X2 concept car featured a Hydrogen rotary engine. This car adopted metal-hydride to carry hydrogen fuel safely. Since then Mazda have produced a hydrogen-fuelled rotary engine concept at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1991. This car was called the RX8 Hydrogen RE and is a car which can also run on petrol. Since the 1980’s Mazda have been working on Hydrogen operated cars and the RX8 Hydrogen RE epitomizes their work in all its glory!

Mazda’s hydrogen engine has been developed to generate power by burning hydrogen. It is a very clean power source as it emits only water vapor rather than the gas carbon dioxide which is linked to Global warming.

“Mazda succeeded in commercializing the world’s first hydrogen rotary engine when it started leasing the RX-8 Hydrogen RE in February 2006. The vehicle provides a natural driving feel without sacrificing handling or acceleration, and offers enjoyable driving without pumping out harmful exhaust gases. The marriage of hydrogen and the rotary engine has made it possible to realize an “ultimate eco-car.”*1

Since 1991 through to 2008 Mazda have produced 12 MODELS which are hydrogen operated! There initiative is going strong and the Hydrogen Mazda green cars looks to be further prevalent in Mazda’s future! Exciting stuff!

I’ll conclude with a quote from Mazda’s Hydrogen Rotary Engine Initiative:

“The hydrogen rotary engine is a visionary power unit, leading towards a hydrogen-based eco-friendly society.”*1


*2 – http://www.impomag.com/news/2011/10/mazda-stop-making-rotary-engine-vehicles


RE Chronicle
  • Ramelli invented the first rotary piston type water pump.
  • Pappenheim invented a gear type pump.
  • James Watt invented the first rotary steam engine.
  • Murdock also invented a rotary steam engine and succeeded in generating power.
  • Cooley manufactured a rotary steam engine in which both inner and outer rotors rotate.
  • Umpleby advanced Cooley’s steam engine into a rotary type internal combustion engine.
  • Wallinder, Skoog, and Lundby announced their joint research on the rotary engine.
  • Sensaud de Lavou further advanced the rotary theory.
  • Maillard devised a compressor by applying the rotary theory.
  • Felix Wankel collaborated with NSU to promote his rotary engine research and development.
  • Wankel/NSU built a prototype DKM rotary engine.
  • Wankel/NSU built a prototype KKM rotary engine.
  • Wankel completed the type KKM250 rotary engine.
  • Wankel/NSU tested their rotary engine in public.
  • Mazda made a technical contract with NSU and Wankel.
  • Mazda completed its own first prototype rotary engine.
  • Mazda organized Rotary Engine Research Department.
  • A prototype sports car powered by a rotary engine is unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
  • Mazda announced the completion of the rotary engine.
    The Cosmo Sport was introduced into the domestic market.
  • The Familia Rotary Coupe was introduced.
  • Mazda exported rotary engine cars for the first time (to Australia and Thailand).
  • The Luce Rotary Coupe (front-wheel-drive) was introduced.
    Mazda’s rotary engine car cleared the US Federal Government emissions test.
  • Mazda received award from Japanese Mechanical Engineering Society for the commercialization of the rotary engine.
  • Export of rotary engine cars to Europe (Switzerland) started.
  • The Capella Rotary (powered by 12A unit) was introduced.
  • Export of rotary engine cars to the United States started.
  • Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 100,000 units.
  • The Savanna Rotary was introduced.
  • Capella G-series, the first rotary-powered automobile with an automatic transmission, was introduced.
  • Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 200,000 units.
  • The Capella Rotary Coupe completed 100,000km endurance run, through eleven European countries and with its engine fully sealed.
  • The first series production car with full emission control package, the Luce Rotary was introduced.
  • Mazda’s rotary engine car cleared the U.S. 1975 emission standards, and this fact was confirmed by EPA test.
  • Luce AP (REAPS-2) was the first vehicle approved under the anti-pollution incentive tax in Japan.
  • Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 500,000 units.
  • The Luce AP Grand Tourismo powered by 13B engine was introduced.
  • The Parkway Rotary 26 was introduced.
  • The Roadpacer was introduced.
  • The Cosmo AP was introduced featuring a low emission rotary engine with 40% improved fuel-efficiency.
  • Cosmo L Landau top was introduced.
  • Luce Legato was introduced.
  • The Savanna RX-7 was introduced.
  • Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 1,000,000 units.
  • The New Cosmo and Luce Rotary were introduced.
  • The world’s first turbo-charged rotary engine model was added to the。。Cosmo (929) series.
  • The turbo-charged rotary engine model was added to the Luce (929) series.
  • The RX-7 was face-lifted and the world-first turbo rotary engine model was added.
  • The RX-7 was entirely redesigned.
  • Cumulative production of rotary engine cars reached 1,500,000 units.
  • The Luce was entirely redesigned.
  • The Eunos Cosmo debuted featuring the world’s first three-rotor rotary engine (20B-REW).
  • The Mazda 787B achieved overall win at the 59th Le Mans 24 Hours race.
  • The HR-X concept car (with hydrogen RE) was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
  • The RX-7 was completely redesigned (with a 255PS 13B-REW unit).
  • The HR-X2 concept car (with hydrogen RE) was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
  • First public road trials of a hydrogen RE vehicle in Japan.
  • The RX-01 concept car (powered by a type MSP-RE experimental engine) was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
  • The RX-7 was face-lifted (engine output increased to 265PS).
  • The RX-7 was face-lifted (engine output increased to 280PS).
  • The RX-EVOLV concept car with the RENESIS experimental engine was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
  • A design prototype of the Mazda RX-8 (powered by the RENESIS) was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.
  • The Mazda RX-8 (with the RENESIS) introduced.
  • RX-8 Hydrogen RE (development vehicle) was unveiled.
  • RX-8 Hydrogen RE trials began on public roads with approval from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
  • RX-8 Hydrogen RE launched on limited release basis
  • Mazda Delivers First Rotary Hydrogen Vehicles to Corporate Customer Fleets
  • Mazda Delivers Two Rotary Hydrogen Vehicles to Hiroshima Government Authorities
  • Mazda to show RX-8 Hydrogen RE at Norway’s ONS2006 Exhibition
  • Mazda Delivers RX-8 Hydrogen RE to Yamaguchi Government
  • Mazda Hydrogen Vehicle Takes Part in Cold Weather Testing in Hokkaido, Japan
  • Mazda Delivers Hydrogen Rotary Engine Vehicle to Japan Automobile Research Institute
  • Mazda to Participate in Norwegian National Project HyNor by Providing Hydrogen Cars to Norway From Summer
  • Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid Gains Government Approval to Begin Public Road Testing in Japan
  • Mazda Hydrogen Rotary Vehicle Takes to the Road in Norway




Savanna RX-7


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