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Mazda confirms return of rotary engine

by Ben Hsu

It will serve as a range extender on an electric autonomous vehicle.

Mazda's novel rotary engine is making a comeback, though perhaps not in the way sports car enthusiasts hope. Instead of high-powered, turbocharged mills, the new rotary will serve a range extenders to a fleet of self-driving that Mazda and Toyota are co-developing.

News of the rotary's return comes straight from the president of Mazda North American Operations Masahiro Moro. "This is a very suitable engine to run a generator because it's compact and lightweight, with no noise or vibration, and it has very good fuel economy,'' he said during the Automotive News World Congress industry conference in Detroit last week.

With fewer parts than traditional engines and a compact footprint, the rotary will rotary engine will allow for customizable options for Toyota's e-Palette autonomous vehicle. Co-developed with Toyota, Mazda, Denso and Amazon, they can serve as everything from mobile stores to hotels to delivery trucks.

Mazda has not produced a rotary engine since its RX-8 sports car ended production in 2012. While the new application isn't the return that aficionados of Mazda's long line of RX sports cars have been waiting for, this at least provides some hope that the technology Mazda developed 50 years ago will continue in some form.

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