TOKYO -- Mazda Motor plans to release electric vehicles equipped with range-extending rotary engines in the U.S. and Europe in 2019, bringing back a signature technology as it responds to tougher environmental rules in key auto markets.
A gas-fueled rotary engine can generate power to run the motor in an electric vehicle, letting automakers get by with a smaller battery or increasing the distance the car can travel. Mazda in 2013 equipped a prototype electric car with a rotary engine that doubled its range compared with a standard electric compact. BMW offers a similar gas-fueled range extender for its i3.
The rotary engine, which uses rotors rather than the pistons seen in conventional combustion engines, is small but powerful. Mazda released the world's first car equipped with this unusual engine, the Cosmo Sport, in 1967. The automaker ceased production of vehicles with rotary engines in 2012.
With California and other U.S. states adopting stricter quotas for zero-emission vehicles next year and Europe tightening environmental regulations as well, demand for electrified vehicles is set to grow. Mazda hopes to capitalize on this trend with the new model, its first mass-market electric vehicle.
The new car, expected to be a compact, will likely be produced at existing Japanese facilities. Mazda will determine when it will go on sale in Japan based on local demand.