In a development worthy of Mark Twain, Mazda's signature rotary engine is not doomed, as it had appeared when the company announced it is pulling the plug on U.S. sales of the RX-8, the sole remaining production rotary car.

Indeed, Mazda chairman, president and CEO Takashi Yamanouchi pledged to designers in a visit to Mazda Design Europe that the company would end production of the rotary on his watch, "over my dead body."

Instead, the company will bring the rotary back to America in a more appealing form. Mazda will continue selling the RX-8 in Japan in the meantime. The company is toiling to address the traditional rotary shortcomings of poor fuel efficiency and weak low- end torque for it's return, according to Aturu Kobayashi, assistant to the president.

The other challenge that burdened the RX-8 was the extra mass and hunchbacked styling that came from the decision to make the car a four-seated with rear-hinged rear doors. "We won't make that mistake again," Kobayashi promised.

Indeed, the company would not have added the ungainly back seat and the 330 lbs. of mass associated with it but for the demands of Mazda's then-president Mark Fields, he said.

With sleek lines, improved fuel economy and better drivability from bolstered low-end torque, the future Mazda rotary model will have a fighting chance to contend for sales in the fickle sports car segment.

The company also recognizes the potential value of the rotary engine as the power plant for the generator in an extended-range hybrid, but Kobayashi would say no more about Mazda's plans in that area. In steady-state running as a generator, the rotary's weak torque and thirst for fuel are negated, while its compact size and smooth running characteristics are valuable.

author photo

Dan Carney is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications. He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award. Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, D.C.

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