Rotary engines aren't known for their green credentials, but if Mazda's latest plans come to fruition, they may be granted another lease of life.

Most frequently seen in Mazda's sports cars over the years, Wankel rotary engines are associated variously with ultra-smooth power, poor fuel economy, and intolerance of poor maintenance.

According to Green Car Congress, Mazda's experience with rotary engines could influence the company's direction with range-extended electric cars.

Mazda has already hinted that the rotary could live on with advances made through its SKYACTIV program, and believes that the engine could match regular gasoline units for fuel efficiency. The company now thinks it can close the gap in electric vehicle technology with rivals Nissan and Mitsubishi by re-introducing rotary engines as a range-extender.

“We should be able to make the most of the rotary engine’s advantages, such as the ease of making it compact and safe,”said Mazda President Takashi Yamanouchi.

Even more unusually, the engine would be powered by hydrogen, rather than gasoline. The idea isn't actually that new--Mazda itself has been leasing a hydrogen, rotary hybrid in Japan since 2009, the Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid. Only the application would be different, used solely as a range-extender.

The news comes only shortly after Audi canned its own rotary range-extender project, in the Audi A1 e-tron.


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