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Mazda Stops Production of the Last Rotary Engine Powered Car 359

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the ever-twirling-toward-speed dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "After a 45-year production run, Mazda Motor Corp announced that the latest edition of the Mazda RX-8 will end production in June 2012. The Japanese automaker ... introduced its first rotary engine car in 1967 and is the only automaker in the world that makes rotary engine vehicles, once the darling of the automotive industry. Such engines have fewer moving parts and are quieter than comparable piston engines but are more expensive to manufacture and consume more fuel. Cumulative sales of Mazda vehicles with rotary engines total about 1.995 million but Mazda sold only 2,896 RX-8 cars last year, with 1,245 of them in North America and 963 in Japan. 'Although R-X production is ending, the rotary engine will always represent the spirits of Mazda, and Mazda remains committed to its ongoing development,' says Mazda Chief Executive and President Takashi Yamanouchi recalling the victory of Mazda's rotary engine at Le Mans 20 years ago... Mazda does not have flashy green technologies in its lineup that its bigger Japanese rivals do — such as the hybrids at Toyota Motor Corp. or electric vehicles at Nissan Motor Co. The fading away of its prized rotary engine — although largely symbolic — is yet another blow."
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Mazda Stops Production of the Last Rotary Engine Powered Car

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  • by dtmos (447842) * on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @04:55PM (#37683578)

    Mazda sold only 2,896 RX-8 cars last year, with 1,245 of them in North America and 963 in Japan. Cumulative sales of Mazda vehicles with rotary engines total about 1.995 million as of the end of August

    Unless my math is off, it looks like final cumulative sales will fall just short of 2 million cars:

    2,896 cars/year is 241.33 cars/month; even assuming the end is on 30 June that means only 10 more months of production -- a total of 2413.33 cars -- for a cumulative total of 1.9974 million (only to the precision of the starting "about" 1.995 million, of course). Man, just one year short. Maybe there will be enough sympathy sales that final year to put them over the top?

    I need to get out more.

    • by nido (102070) <nido56.yahoo@com> on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:09PM (#37683724) Homepage

      The Mazda rotaries have traditionally worn out prematurely (needing rebuilds after 80-100k because of oil leaks), and they get relatively poor fuel economy. The design has a slightly higher power/weight ratio, but that specific advantage doesn't outweigh the many disadvantages.

      I'm watching the MYT engine [angellabsllc.com], which is a swing-piston engine [wikipedia.org]. Raphial doesn't want to sell out to someone who'd kill it or bury it, and hasn't found anyone to loan him enough to get his factory off the ground.

      • by Macgrrl (762836) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:50PM (#37684868)

        One of my former flatmates had a RX-7, he used to keep a spare engine on the landing.

        Riding with him was always an adrenaline pumping experience, he lived in inner city Melbourne (Australia) and used to make a point of dragging off trams and pulling in front of them at intersections, accellerating and breaking heavily on tram tracks so as not to run the red light, with several tonnes of tram having to break heavily behind him so as not to rear end him.

        • by jaxtherat (1165473) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @08:32PM (#37685636) Homepage

          No offence, but your former flatmate sounds like a complete dickhead.

          As someone who has experienced Melbourne trams having to break hard to avoid an accident which resulted in all the passengers being hurled forwards (some off their feet) it is just not cool.

        • by Insightfill (554828) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @09:02PM (#37685840) Homepage

          he... used to make a point of dragging off trams and pulling in front of them at intersections, accellerating and breaking heavily on tram tracks so as not to run the red light, with several tonnes of tram having to break heavily behind him so as not to rear end him.

          That, my friends, is a WANKER-powered car.

          I agree with sibling posts - what an ass.

          "And occasionally, he'd drive onto the sidewalk to see what people would do."

        • Riding with him was always an adrenaline pumping experience,

          I think the fuel economy of RX-8's is sometimes evaluated a little unfairly. I too have a friend who used to have an RX8. I think he considered the accelerator to be a boolean variable. He also complained about its poor fuel economy. He only occasionally complained about the poor brake pad economy.

    • Really this is another awful Slashdot summary. They aren't killing the rotary engine, they are stopping production of the RX8, which was a horrible let down after the Gen 3 RX7 which was arguably one of the best Japanese sports cars ever made.
      The RX8 was more of a sport-tourer than a sports car and made was a terrible combination of technologies- sports car enthusiasts are just more forgiving of the rotary quirks than someone buying a touring car.

  • by enigma32 (128601) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:01PM (#37683644)

    I love my RX-7! The rotary engine is really an engineering marvel. Too bad they never had the resources to work on the efficiency like everyone did with piston engines.

    I was saving for years to be able to buy an RX-9 if/when it hit the market (Which has been rumored for years, and supposedly was coming near to release in the next few years... guess that wasn't the case).

    So long, wankel!
    (I'll still continue to love and drive my RX-7, of course...)

    • Indeed... I drove a 2nd generation turbo RX-7 for about 10 years until the late 90s and still miss the ride. It purred like a kitten right up to the redline at 7,000 rpm, and handled like a slot car. Went from that to a pickup truck, which has its own virtues, but it's still sad to see the rotaries go out of production.

    • by Nerdfest (867930)
      I still feel uncomfortable when I hear the phrase "Wankel Rotary Engine".
      • by ThePeices (635180)

        Assuming that you are not trolling, you seem to suffer discomfort when reading a benign word that sounds similar to the word "wanker".

        This is a telling sign of concerning mental issues that need to be resolved for you to function correctly in society.

        I highly recommend that you seek professional help.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          Well, I read the comments in this article just because I like the word "Wankel". Not only does nit not make me uncomfortable, but I say it whenever I get the chance because it makes me smile.

          Do I need professional help too? I hope so, because I would like professional help. The amateur help I've been getting has not been at all satisfactory.

        • by mirix (1649853)

          Vankel doesn't even sound very close. He must lose it when he hears words like angina.

        • by Tarlus (1000874)

          Or, you know, it could have been just a joke.

      • Re:So sad! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Darinbob (1142669) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @06:08PM (#37684370)

        A wanker is typically reciprocating instead of rotary.

    • by dohnut (189348)

      I really liked, but never owned, the RX-7. I thought I'd get an RX-8 when they were announced. Call me shallow but I just didn't like the look of the car. I really don't like the protruding front fenders. Actually, I really don't like the whole front end. From an aesthetic point of view I prefer the RX-7 (3rd gen) over the RX-8 but to each his own.

      • Mazda has a real problem designing good looking cars of late. The RX-7 looked sweet for pretty much its entire run, which is saying a lot given how ugly most cars got in the early 90s. The RX-8 looks like it was designed by a team of people that each couldn't see what the others were doing.

        They also messed up the Miata with the NC body revision. The design probably peeked with the NB body (flip up headlights aside, those were cool no matter how much the weighed).

        It's really too bad, because both those
      • by Dahamma (304068)

        I totally agree. The 3rd gen RX-7 was one of the better looking (and performing) cars Japan has produced. The RX-8 was ugly as shit and the performance wasn't even close...

      • I never owned one (though I do have a Mazda), but I really appreciated their use of triangles in the RX-8's aesthetics. I felt their designers were carrying the spirit of the rotary engine out and into the car's artistic design. And I liked the fact that they did something different just because they could.

    • Lack of R&D resources was definitely a problem, but the simple fact is that a Wankel crankcase is just a hell of a lot harder to machine than than the simple cylinders of a conventional engine.

    • by Sperbels (1008585)
      Well, I think I would have bought one if I could get a FWD or AWD one. I live in a snowy state though and won't buy a RWD car.
    • Don't worry [auto-types.com]. As usual someone isn't doing their research [oncars.in] before posting.
    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      A good friend had an RX-7 dolled up like the white one in Initial D. He also owned an '86 Corolla properly dolled up to look like the Panda Trueno. Both are now gone, but I've had the pleasure of sitting shotgun in both.

      The RX-7's rotary engine looked almost alien to me. The car was a bit loud and it smelled of burning oil - something about that really appealed to me - and the thing ran beautifully despite it being very, very used. I was always fond of alternatives to the mainstream.

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:02PM (#37683658) Homepage Journal
    Like a million apex seals cried out in unison, and were then ejected from the tailpipe.
  • Is it really less efficient? As I understood it, the rotary engine gives an equivalent HP compared to a piston engine at a fraction of the displacement.

    • Its not all that great for a sports car. The other downside is it consumes more oil and requires a rebuild every so many miles. From an engineering standpoint it make more sense. Why convert the opposing force of the pistons to a rotation when you could generate the rotation force itself?

      Now given the choice would I drive one? Hell yeah.

      • Its not all that great for a sports car.

        The SCCA disagrees.

        Did you know that the RX-7 "FD" (early 90s) is still in the "Super Stock" auto-cross class along with brand-new Corvettes and Porsches? It's by far the oldest car in the category and arguably the best example so far of what a rotary car can do. Admittedly, it has reliability issues but it was very good at getting around the track.

    • So does a 2-stroke, and it's definitely less efficient.
    • Re:Efficiency check (Score:4, Informative)

      by EvilRyry (1025309) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:14PM (#37683780) Journal
      The displacement number in rotary engines is quite misleading. The design is so different than a piston based engine that it's not a fair comparison. You're getting more power because you're getting more power strokes per rotation. Because you're getting more power strokes, you're doing more intake strokes (more fuel). So while power/displacement ratio is better, that doesn't necessarily affect the power/fuel ratio at all.
      • That's a good explanation.

        The other problem with rotary engines is that they're rare and therefore a lot of mechanics don't know how to work on them. In some areas, you're pretty much limited to going to the dealership for service, which is usually a lot more expensive than an independent. So in a nutshell, they might make more power in a smaller space, but they cost more both in mileage and maintenance.

        Their big advantage (at least, the big advantage I perceived back in the 80's when I was drooling at the

  • So the main advantages of this engine are that it's quieter and has fewer moving parts, while the downside is that it's more expensive and less fuel efficient.

    So why would i want one of these? There have been a lot of improvements to noise reduction with regular engines so that's not as big a deal as it once might have been. Does fewer moving parts mean fewer breakdowns? It could, but it doesn't have to. It's always possible that the fewer parts have a higher individual rate of failure that balances thing
    • by jandrese (485)
      The big advantage is that it is lighter per BHP than the equivalent piston engine, and can be revved up higher. They have fewer moving parts, but a far more complex problem with sealing than regular piston engines do, and thus tend to be less efficient and burn more oil in the real world. Plus, modern piston engines are balanced so well that the RPM differences aren't what they used to be.
    • It's worse than that (Score:5, Informative)

      by dcavanaugh (248349) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:41PM (#37684060) Homepage

      The advantages of the rotary engine are power (relative to weight) and simplicity. Even though the rotary engine has fewer moving parts than a piston engine, service life is LESS. In theory, IF there were many manufacturers competing and making interchangeable parts, rotary engines might become cheap enough to be disposable. But with Mazda as the only game in town, forget it.

      As engines evolved, people discovered it was easier to reduce the weight of a piston engine than to build a long-life rotary engine. Of all the components that can fail in a car, the pistons, engine blocks, rings, rods, valves, fuel injectors, and camshafts are normally good for the life of the vehicle. With the possible exception of timing belts, the simplicity of the rotary engine does not translate to lower maintenance cost because the admittedly complicated piston engines are generally quite reliable.

         

      • by couchslug (175151)

        The timing belt issue is easily solved by running gears or chains. Belts are used because they are cheap.

  • Looking for a cheap coupé, I came close to buying the beautiful RX-8, but the fuel economy is just hopeless, and I read that it basically bleeds oil. If you see an RX-8 for a suspiciously cheap price and a seller with a big sad face, I figured that car is an auto-vampire, sucking its owner dry in petrol and maintenance costs before moving on to the next victim. Owners have a "300 club" where you try to make it clock over 300 miles on its 61 litre fuel tank without having to walk to the next petrol stat

    • Doh, that's about what I get in a BMW 645.

      I also have an old Mazda (Miata, not RXn) that I alternate driving to improve my overall mileage and to make the 6 new and exciting again every few weeks.

  • Once the darling of the English language...

    Thank you political wonks, your contributions to the language will be with us (unfortunately) for generations.

  • I'm convinced that the only real reason we have piston engines in most cars today is because pistons work really well in steam engines, and early on in the development of the internal combustion engine, most of the engineering was done by people familiar with steam engines using the designs they knew. If development had proceeded on the principle of "IC is different from EC, let's take advantage of that," rotary and other non-piston-based designs might now be a lot more common and a lot more advanced. It

    • by SendBot (29932)

      I like your post, but transistors have basically the same function as their vacuum tube ancestors. They're engineered and optimized to do the same thing, but with less power and more reliability. A change in design, for instance, would be tri-state logic instead of the familiar 1's and 0's of today.

      Actually, one thing comes to mind: asynchronous non-clocked cpu's! I heard intel did some experiments with this using their pentium design and made significant improvements in speed and power consumption, but it

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Poppet-valved piston engines are wonderfully tunable and excellent when your goal is to manipulate the combustion process.

      Wankel rotaries and piston two-strokes (be they piston-port or rotary valve) are much more limited by nature. Their power-to-weight ratio makes them fine for specific applications, and of course two-strokes can be built cheaply though they pollute quite a bit, but if you want low-end torque for automotive applications the poppet-valve piston engine is what to use.

    • by mirix (1649853)

      It's kind of as if the computer engineering world had taken a look at the first integrated circuits (also "IC," by an interesting coincidence) and said, "we need to do this with vacuum tubes." No doubt we'd have all kinds of cool miniaturized vacuum tube technology we don't have today, but there's little doubt that computers would still be horribly bulky, slow, and expensive compared to what we actually got.

      Well [wikimedia.org], the whole integrated circuit theory pre-dates transistors, it just wasn't terribly practical with hollow state. (in the later years, you could make the whole circuit contained in the above much smaller than the "integrated-tube", so... not so useful).

      But regardless, since the 30's it was common to put two discrete tubes in a common package, and by the end of the road TVs used a lot of awesomely named 'compactrons' which had as many as four, tubes in one envelope. Which isn't really an IC, but more li

  • Mazda needs to make a rotary Miata.

    They've needed to do so for years, but they're too stupid/stubborn to do so. Their execs must be from the same business school that Commodore's were from.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      What? no they don't. It's a good decision. Rotary Miata. Sheesh.

    • by ouija147 (467204)

      No sorry this is what they should do...

      http://flyinmiata.com/V8/ [flyinmiata.com]

      I have a 2002 LS6 and a '93 smurf ... a work in progress

    • Making a varient with a rotary engine would definitely be cool, but it's a big trade off in terms of reliability. The Miata NB 1.8 liter is probably one of the most reliable engines out there. It's the last piece of the car likely to break.

      Still, the Miata really could use some engine upgrade options. Mazda needs to bring back the Mazdaspeed turbo charger option, and offering a rotary engine would be awesome too. Out of their line up, the Miata is that car where that engine fits best, if they are killing
    • by fermion (181285)
      IMHO, an engine needs to built for reliability, power, and efficiency. I do not see any benefit to using more fuel than is needed to do a job, though I do know some people see high fuel consumption as a sign of prowess. In the case of a miata, at cruising speed it consumes on the order of a millilitre a second.

      What makes the Miata great, and the RX-7, is everything around the engine. That it can takes curves at higher speed than cars with more powerful engines. That it has a beautiful sound. That o

  • by vlm (69642)

    Historically rotary engines had huge pollution issues. Plenty of HC output, not just from leaky oil seals.
    Rotaries have a market position problem ... turbine engines have much better power to weight ratios (although horrible idling losses).

    • turbine engines have much better power to weight ratios (although horrible idling losses).

      I think it is time for a turbine/electric hybrid.
      I have been thinking about this for my next motorcycle project.

  • Of my first car, a 1972 Mazda Rx2. Last seen in a wrecking yard in Orange, NSW with a crushed roof and twisted frame. A great car, but 17mpg on a good day was a shock.
    • It's probably still there, minus a few superficial parts which would have been sold on to the next generation of kids at vastly inflated prices. Where did you break it? Kinross Forest? Cargo Rd?

  • 'Although R-X production is ending, the rotary engine will always represent the spirits of Mazda, and Mazda remains committed to its ongoing development,' says Mazda Chief Executive and President Takashi Yamanouchi

    Sensationalist headline!

  • ...HHHmmmmmm..

  • GM was supposed to make a rotary a.k.a. Wankel Engine. AMC was going to source it. They decided to design a car with a futuristic almost UFO-ish look. This was the Pacer.

    GM never made the engine, never sold it to AMC. The Pacer still was sold, making Wayne's World just a bit funnier.

    • by rrossman2 (844318)

      GM did make a rotory in the 70's as the engine for a concept corvette. Of course in the usual fashion, GM tried to make it too large (not as in more rotors, but as in physically too large) and ran into issues. The project ended up being scrapped (but they still made a rotory)

    • Why would GM sell it to AMC? AMC was a Chrysler product.
      • by mirix (1649853)

        AMC was still independent then. Sourcing parts from other manufacturers isn't entirely foreign concept, it happens. I have no idea about the case the GP mentioned though.

  • by Radical Moderate (563286) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:30PM (#37683980)
    technology coming down the pike. [mazda.com] the new diesels look especially intriguing. And it appears the rotary isn't dead, it's just restin'. [thetruthaboutcars.com]
  • Fuel efficiency (Score:4, Informative)

    by afidel (530433) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:33PM (#37683998)
    Reality check, the upcoming CX5 will be far and away the most fuel efficient AWD vehicle available in North America when it's introduced later this year. In 2013 (2014 model year) if they bring the Skyactiv diesel to the US like they've announced then you will be able to get an ~42mpg AWD crossover. They are doing this without the very expensive and environmentally dubious hybrid or electric drivetrains, just good old fashioned engineering.
    • Reality check, the upcoming CX5 will be far and away the most fuel efficient AWD vehicle available in North America when it's introduced later this year. In 2013 (2014 model year) if they bring the Skyactiv diesel to the US like they've announced then you will be able to get an ~42mpg AWD crossover. They are doing this without the very expensive and environmentally dubious hybrid or electric drivetrains, just good old fashioned engineering.

      Reality check, indeed. I routinely see 4.8L/100km highway consumption in my 2011 Subaru Impreza, when I'm driving sedately and on a flat road. That goes to shit when I start driving up hills, and when I stop worrying about consumption, but that is a real world consumption figure in a car with AWD that most certainly wasn't designed for efficiency that pushes 49mpg. More realistic consumption is about 6.4-6.8L/100km average depending on the weather and my mood, and that still approaches 38mpg in a petrol-bur

  • I can't believe we haven't come up with a better system than the piston engine invented 100's of years ago. When I first learned of the rotary engine long ago, I hoped it would be better, but I guess not.
    • There are better theoretical designs than your typical reciprocating engine. Unfortunately, they suffer serious issues in one form or another preventing them gaining market share and acceptance. The range from reliability, controlling emissions, fuel efficiencies, ability to machine the engines cost effectively, and the low cost maintenance. One of the serious drawbacks to the older Rotaries was carbon fouling and broken apex seals. Yet the Rotary is still the best alternative IC engine out there.

      What I wan

    • by GrahamCox (741991)
      I can't believe we haven't come up with a better system than the piston engine invented 100's of years ago.

      Well, only 125 years ago... but we do have something much, much better than a piston engine. It's called an "electric motor". Unfortunately we still haven't effectively solved the fuelling problem.
  • by Golgafrinchan (777313) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:46PM (#37684116)
    Could someone provide a car analogy to explain?
  • Someone posted

    Too bad they never had the resources to work on the efficiency like everyone did with piston engines.

    The basic Wankel isn't a bad engine. But you can't vary the basic design much. The trochoid determines the shape of the combustion chamber. All the games that have been played with combustion chamber layout, from the hemi head to four valve engines, don't really apply. Valve timing, too, is determined by the geometry. All those have been tweaked to improve fuel economy and emissions. With a Wankel, there's not much to tweak.

  • have much in common with two stroke piston engines. Oil consumption is high because there can only be one set of seals on the rotary "piston" compared to two (or more) sets of rings on a piston engine. This also results in some fuel being lost in the exhaust just like in a two stroke. The seals are not as good and wear out more quickly reducing compression and loosing power. The engine runs hotter and as a result can produce more 'smog' gases (however the extra heat helps the catalytic converter scrub t

  • by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @05:56PM (#37684238) Homepage Journal

    For all of the sturm and drang on Slashdot regarding patents and how they impede progress, how could they have gone unmentioned in a discussion of the rotary engine?

  • Mazda does not have flashy green technologies in its lineup that its bigger Japanese rivals do — such as the hybrids at Toyota Motor Corp. or electric vehicles at Nissan Motor Co. The fading away of its prized rotary engine — although largely symbolic — is yet another blow

    Skyactive? Better economy that the Prius (3.3L vs 3.9L) in their Mazda 2 range - and it's actually a "Real" green technology - unlike plugin eV's and Lithium based battery packs. It's a genuine reduction in Green house emissions, not a "We'll move the emissions from your exhaust, to the power station"...

  • by dadelbunts (1727498) on Tuesday October 11, 2011 @11:35PM (#37686682)
    Mazda is just not producing anymore renesis rotary engines. Does not mean they are not producing a new rotary engine. "Thank you so much for all your supportive messages concerning the RX-8 and the rotary engine! We are also excited. Mazda is aiming to achieve a breakthrough with the ‘Skyactiv’ technology, and we are zealously working on new models to house the next generation rotary engine. Thank you for your continued support!" http://carscoop.blogspot.com/2011/10/mazda-pr-tweets-that-company-is-working.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Carscoop+(CARSCOOP) [blogspot.com] This article is so wrong on so many levels that its funny.

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