With news of Mazda’s rotary engine development surfacing throughout the past year, we’ve been actively following its progress. Of course, die-hard rotary fans have been less enthused, as all information points to the powerplant continuing on as a gas-driven range extender for EVsÂ â€” rather than the heart and soul of a high-performance coupe. It could still happen, but it’ll be a long wait.
The prognosis recently became more interesting, though enthusiasts aren’t likely to feel any better about it. Toyota is hinting that Mazda’s rotary could be the perfect solution to a concept vehicle it’s currently working on. Unfortunately, that unit is theÂ e-PaletteÂ â€” an autonomous box riding atop the company’s new battery electric platform, with more applications as a mobile store than as a personal conveyance.Â
We shouldn’t pigeonhole the e-Palette, though. Its design and name simultaneously indicate a clean slate, allowing it to be purpose-built for loads of uses.Â It comes in three sizes, ranging from 13 feet long to approximately 23 feet, and is intentionally designed to be as flexible as possible.
Toyota has already partnered with Amazon and Pizza Hut to explore autonomous delivery applications, but there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t be outfitted for shuttling humans. (It will likely need to be redesigned to adhere to safety regulations before the Uber affiliation bares any real fruit.)
Toyota also tapped Mazda as itsÂ technology partner for the project, adhering to an earlier promise to collaborate on EVs. According to Green Car Reports, the e-Palette presented at 2018’s CES didn’t include anÂ internal combustion engine. But Jacob Brown, spokesman for Mazda North America, said Mazda’s engineering team will ultimately share powertrain developments with Toyota, including a range-extending rotary engine.
“Mazda will provide technical information on a [rotary engine] range extender to be used in the vehicle being developed. We will reveal more details at an appropriate time,” Brown said.
Neither Toyota nor Mazda was willing to specify if the rotary range enhancer would be limited to the e-Palette concept, but we’d guess not. Considering the vehicle is really just a shell for Toyota’s new EV platform, there is no reason it couldn’t be equipped for other more contemporary models. Meanwhile, Mazda’s new EV architecture is set to arrive in 2019 (with help from Toyota) and could also make use of the rotary.