Mazda Motor Corp.’s famous rotary engine is back, now in the form of a range extender for a prototype of a Mazda hybrid hatchback. The hybrid prototype operates as an electric vehicle, with an electric motor powering the wheels. When the charge of the lithium ion battery goes low, a gasoline-powered 0.33-liter rotary engine placed in the rear will generate power to recharge it. This powertrain – called by Mazda as RE Range Extender, short for Rotary Engine Range Extender -- is similar to the one installed in the Chevrolet Volt, which is also an extended-range hybrid. The unveiling of the prototype in Yokohama came weeks after chief executive Masamichi Kogai said that they have no plans for a production car powered by rotary engines.
Kogai remarked then that sales would have to reach 100,000 units annually to justify a commercial revival of the rotary engine. He, however, admitted that Mazda engineers continued to work on the rotary engine technology – resulting to modified range-extender Mazda2. The Mazda2 hybrid might help the carmaker comply with California’s strict zero emissions requirements, according to Takashi Suzuki, program manager for advanced powertrain development.
He remarked that while California requires electric vehicles, the state is also expected to give credit for certain hybrids. Mazda used a smaller version of the rotary engine for the Mazda2, allowing the car to maximize fuel economy; run quietly with little vibration; and use different varieties of fuel. The compact version could also be fitted with many different body shapes. [source: automotive news - sub. required]