Auto Tech

Mazda rotary engines will juice up self-driving Toyota EVs

It's not exactly how enthusiasts would want the rotary to come back, but it's better than nothin'.


Late in 2017, Mazda's global powertrain chief said its rotary engine could come back as early as 2019. Now, we're getting a better idea of how it will return, and it's probably not in the way you'd expect.

Mazda will revive its rotary engine to help power Toyota's fleet of driverless electric delivery vehicles, Bloomberg reports, citing an interview with Masahiro Moro, Mazda's president of US operations.

It's funky, but the e-Palette has a whole lot of promise. I doubt it'll sound like a 787B, though.


The fleet, which Bloomberg says is still in development, will be used to move everything from people to packages. They will be electric, so the rotary engine won't provide any motive force to the wheels -- rather, the engine will function as a range extender, kicking in to juice up the battery and extend its overall electric range.

While it's unclear exactly what vehicle Mazda is referring to, it's likely a derivation of the e-Palette concept we saw at this year's CES in Las Vegas. The e-Palette is a large, boxy vehicle that can be transformed to transport all sorts of things without a driver. It could operate in one industry by day and another by night, reducing the overall number of vehicles on the road. Early partners include Amazon, Pizza Hut, Uber and -- of course -- Mazda.

These two competitors might seem like strange bedfellows, but there's a reason behind it all. Mazda and Toyota announced a development partnership in August that will see the two companies collaborating on electric vehicle development, as well as a new plant in the US. This way, both companies can share the high costs that come with this kind of work.

If there's one weird engine that would fit in well with Toyota's weird concept, it's the Wankel rotary engine. Instead of using traditional pistons to combust fuel, the Wankel relies on a single rotating element to create all four stages of combustion. It's wacky, but it offers low vibration, decent fuel economy and a small footprint. If Mazda can get its emissions in order -- part of the reason it abandoned the rotary back in 2012 -- it could have a serious hit on its hands for future extended-range EVs.