The electric-car revolution may give new life to an old gas engine.

On Tuesday, timed to coincide with the Paris auto show, Mazda announced it will add plug-in capability and electric power to all of its models by 2030. Some will be plug-in hybrids or range-extended electric cars—with a twist.

The company formally confirmed what it had previously suggested was under development: a new, small version of its signature rotary engine to use as a range extender in an eventual series of plug-in hybrids.

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Mazda was long famous for using rotary engines when other cars used piston-engine designs. The rotary is known for being elegantly simple, with essentially two (or in bigger versions three or four) moving parts, compared with hundreds in a piston design.

They are not known for being environmentally friendly, with poor fuel economy, persistent oil burning, and difficulty meeting even older emissions requirements.

Rotary engine

Rotary engine

These are the challenges Mazda is working to address with a new smaller rotary design that a Mazda executive said last March should be no larger than a pair of shoeboxes. It's not clear whether it might succeed.

Combining a small rotary-engine range extender with electric power could help overcome some of the rotary's challenges by using electric power to handle high loads and by maintaining a steady rpm from the rotary. The experience is likely to be a far cry from the sensory experience offered by generations of Mazda rotary-engine sports cars, however. 

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At the time, the company showed two new electric concepts based on the Mazda2, one a pure electric, and the other a plug-in hybrid with a 0.33-liter rotary range extender.

Mazda said its first electric should debut in 2019, and will likely be a crossover SUV based on the next-generation Mazda3.