Mazda has revealed it will unveil a new sports car concept at the Tokyo motor show - prompting speculation it could be a forerunner to a new, rotary-engined Mazda RX-8 road car.
So far, Mazda has only issued a shadowy teaser picture showing the car is a coupe, plus a statement claiming the car "clearly embodies the carmaker’s lineage" - thought to be a direct reference to the fact the car could be rotary powered.
The statement added: "Designers strove to condense the company’s sports car history to as great a degree as possible into this concept. Mazda is also highlighting the brand’s unique approach to the joy of driving."
In what is believed to be a further hint at the new concept's rotary power source, Mazda released details of other cars that will be shown on its stand, including the 967 Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S, the company’s first rotary powered mass-production model.
Speaking to Autocar at the recent Frankfurt motor show, Mazda president Masamichi Kogai confirmed that the company still has a dedicated engineering team focussed on rotary engine development, and revealed that its staff are working “very enthusiastically” towards bringing the technology up to the standards of contemporary piston engines.
This would require considerable improvements in cold-start characteristics, CO2 emissions and torque at low revs, but Kogai reiterated that Mazda will not bring back rotary power unless it can match the standards of other ‘conventional’ engines.
Kogai did not outline a timeline for any return of the RX brand - indeed, he declined to specify precisely why the rotary development team still exists - but it’s feasible that a successor to the RX-8 could appear by 2018, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the original RX-7.
Mazda has also experimented with using rotary engines for different applications beyond being the sole powertrain for a vehicle. It has applied for patents using a rotary engine as a range extender on a hybrid system and even demonstrated a prototype based on the previous generation of its 2 supermini back in 2013.
The Japanese manufacturer killed off its last rotary-engined sports car, the RX-8, back in 2012 as its motor faced ever-tightening emissions regulations. The firm did build a prototype turbocharged RX-8, but that car would have failed to meet European requirements too, and its further development could not be justified on Japanese sales alone.
In fact, rumours of Mazda's return to rotary engines stretch back to 2010, when insiders hinted that a successor the RX-7, potentially to be dubbed RX-9, was planned.
The Mazda Koeru, a crossover SUV concept that debuted in Frankfurt in September, will also be on display in Tokyo.
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