Mazda rotary engine technology lives on. Since the last rotary powered RX-8 sports car was retired in 2012 there has been much speculation on when we would see another Mazda rotary engine in production.
In 2017 Mazda celebrated the 50 year anniversary of the first rotary powered production vehicle. Even though rotary power had been benched, research and development has continued to refine the technology and adapt it to other fuel sources including diesel and hydrogen.
Kenichi Yamamoto who led the effort to mass produce the rotary engine passed away in December 2017 at age 95. Known as the architect of the Mazda rotary he directed development in the 1960’s and later became Mazda’s president in 1985 and chairman in 1987. In addition to his many accomplishments with rotary while president he paved the way for production of the Miata.
A teaser in 2015 at the Tokyo Motor show of a RX-9 concept car fitted with a Skyactiv-R rotary engine has kept hope alive for fans that another rotary sports car may be on the way. There is confirmation that rotary research continues and rumors from development managers that a next generation rotary engine sports car is in the pipeline.
Who knew that underneath Mazda’s Research and Development facility in Irvine, California there is a basement full of historic Mazda vehicles. Not too surprising that Mazda would preserve a museum of heritage cars, but these vehicles are not there just for display, they are maintained to be ready to drive.
For those who enjoy tinkering on classic vehicles, to be in charge of keeping Mazda’s Heritage Collection of about 80 cars road ready would be a dream come true. Mazda Motorsports Engineer Randy Miller has this dream job of curator, restoration artist, race car engineer, fabricator and maintenance mechanic.
Randy’s dad helped him work on his own cars that led to an automotive degree. After some time at Mazda’s service shop he became a R&D engineering technician that led to a full-time position with the Heritage Collection.
Mazda continues to push to make its vehicles stand out from the crowd. Allowing its designers to have more freedom than most manufacturers to inject life and soul into the vehicles they are creating. It is a philosophy Mazda calls KODO – soul of motion.
At Mazda’s Master Craft event in Los Angeles the similarities between Mazda design clay modelers and artisan bread makers became apparent. Unlike other car companies who only use computers in new vehicle design, Mazda’s modeled-by-hand design using clay is present in every step of the design process. Using clay models rather than computers and mathematics can make a car’s crisp exterior lines seemingly disappear, evoking emotion through its more fluid form instead of being “boxy and boring.” Artisan bakers agreed that “Like clay modeling, we shape every loaf by hand. It’s all about scale, shape and creating an out-of-this-world product.”
Mazda uses more clay than any other manufacturer in its KODO design process. KODO design is about “creating cars that embody the dynamic beauty of life – cars that visually suggest different expressions of this energy”. While the initial digital design model visualizes the fine details and specific materials of a vehicle, it is the sculpting from clay that brings it to life, something Mazda believes is impossible to replicate digitally.
Mazda recently unveiled two concept models, the Mazda KAI CONCEPT and the Mazda VISION COUPE at the 45th Tokyo Motor Show. The new models are a continuance of Mazda’s new design philosophy: KODO – Soul of Motion. A philosophy to use design to breathe life to a car and make it more than a means of transportation or a mass of metal.
Mazda intends to go forward into future model designs with goal of bringing energy and rhythm to create even more elegant cars. The Mazda KAI CONCEPT compact hatchback features the next-generation SKYACTIV-X gasoline engine and advanced SKYACTIV-Vehicle Architecture. It boasts refinements in all areas of dynamic performance to produce a dramatically quieter, more comfortable ride and an enhanced performance feel. The KODO design features muscular, solid proportions and the use of reflections over the body sides to bring it to life.
Mazda will soon introduce a new engine that uses technology that will increase fuel economy by 30 percent. The technology called homogeneous charge compression ignition has been studied by many manufacturers, but Mazda will be the first to overcome the quirks and put it into production.
The SkyActiv-G direct injection gasoline engine uses compression ignition to boast efficiency combining the advantages of gasoline and diesel technologies. Most production gas engines have a compression ratio of 10:1 to 12:1. This engine has an exceptionally high 14:1 ratio, allowing it to squeeze more energy from every drop of fuel.
Hard not to love a car that is referred to as a roadster. Sometimes even harder to get original parts and keep it maintained. To help with this Mazda is going to be offering a factory restoration service for the NA MX-5 Miata. With over 400,000 sold in the US from 1989 to 1997, this little sports car still has a huge fan base.
Usually a service only offered by a manufacturer of very premium brands like Ferrari or Lamborghini, this program from Mazda plans to fully restore these cars to factory-spec using genuine OEM parts. A current drawback is these “classic centers” doing the restoration are only located in Japan.
In a time of sophisticated digital technology and 3D modeling what part could a few tons of clay play in the design of new car models?
Surprisingly, clay plays a big part. For over 80 years the automotive industry has used full size clay models to preview the design of a new vehicle.
Talented clay modelers continue to play a key role in new model design. For 25 years computer aided design and automated milling machines have threatened to remove this very human artistic element from the process.
With goals of lowering design costs and cutting the time from conception to final production there has been a push toward total digital design. But, when it comes to final model choices they seem to always come back to clay.