It may be a bit of a stretch, but if (and it’s a big if) Mazda’s plans to bring a hydrogen-fueled car to fruition are successful, the criteria necessary for that vehicle’s successful production would lend itself well to a car that may be the next generation RX-7, if not in name, at least in spirit.
With gasoline prices and global demand unlikely to subside, most car manufacturers are hard at work developing alternative engines. One possible alternative fuel that has always seemed promising for the distant future is hydrogen. As previously reported, Mazda’s been developing a hydrogen powered version of its Renesis rotary engine for years, but now the automaker says that it will be mass-producing hydrogen powered vehicles in the near future. Though not confirmed for production yet, Mazda’s key vehicle characterisitics of light weight, performance and eco-friendliness make a new RX-7-type vehicle the ideal flagship for displaying this new hydrogen technology. The rotary engine’s unique design actually makes it well suited for using hydrogen as a combustible fuel. Mazda has always claimed, despite gas-powered rotary engines being relatively inefficient that they offer a smoother, even acceleration than traditional cylinder-based models. But, the the separate intake and combustion chambers of the rotary engine makes the design well suited to the rapid burn characteristics of hydrogen, where traditional piston engines have issues with backfiring when fueled on hydrogen.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that a hydrogen Mazda is still several years off. In an interview with U.K. magazine Autocar, James Muir, Mazda Europe’s CEO rather non-chalantly stated that the company “will do the hydrogen rotary engine, but it won’t be in production for at least five years.” Mazda’s already built 30 working hydrogen powered RX8s and Mazda5s, capable of a 124 mile as part of its development tests.” Knowing that, a 5 year estimate seems reasonable. Hopefully, they are overestimating the timeline needed and may have something available sooner. Electric car production seems to be on a much faster trajectory to showrooms than many would have imagined just a couple of years ago. Still underdeveloped is the hydrogen distribution and fueling infrastructure needed to fuel such cars; though that obstacle is believed by many to be at least partially the doing of the automakers themselves who in their own self-interests may be stalling. Muir admits that sourcing and storing the hydrogen remains one of the biggest challenges, especially as Mazda is using it in gas rather than liquid form. Muir told AutoCar “that sourcing and storing the hydrogen remains one of the biggest challenges, especially as Mazda is using it in gas rather than liquid form.” Before hydrogen cars, which emit only water vapor, can be mass-produced successfully, it has to be possible for motorists to refuel them easily. It’s also possible that Mazda’s future hydrogen cars could be dual-fuel. That would address the problem of motorists who don’t always have easy access to a hydrogen refueling station. In any case, the “RX-7″ name would have to be misapplied to a new rotary engine if it were used. If anything, it would be RX-9.