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Australia a key market for Mazda's rotary revival

Mazda has been developing a rotary range extender since 2013.

Mazda has finally given us a sneak peek of its exciting new rotary-powered range-extender EV, and confirmed that Australia is one of the key markets in its rollout.

Tucked away in a corner at the launch of the company’s new full battery electric vehicle in Norway last week was a cut-away of the Rotary Range Extender that Mazda is working on.

We were shown an engine bay with what looked like a fully functioning set-up featuring an electric motor on one side, and a slightly smaller rotary engine on the other.

Much like the BMW i3 REx, the rotary engine would never actually drive the wheels directly, but would instead be used to provide power for the electric motor when the battery runs low, thus providing extended range.

The advantages of using a rotary engine – a system long associated with Mazda and previously seen in such legendary cars as the RX-7 and RX-8 – is that it is compact and lightweight, as Mazda’s deputy general manager of vehicle development, Matsuhiro Tanaka, told CarsGuide.

“This set-up is still under development, the range extender, and we are working on technologies to make it even lighter, but what we intend to do is to have a small generator run by the rotary engine, but a large battery,” he explained.

Another bonus of the rotary-engine approach is that it can, and will, be adapted to run not only on petrol, but compressed natural gas, LPG and even, possibly, hydrogen.

The Rotary Range Extender will be just one part of Mazda’s new EV-based product line, the first of which, a full battery EV (or BEV) will be unveiled at Tokyo Motor Show.

That BEV will launch in 2020, at least in Europe, while the Rotary Range Extender – which will be joined by new plug-in hybrids and series hybrids from Mazda – is expected to arrive around 2021.

Mazda predicts that just five per cent of its sales will be taken by the BEV model by 2030, but that the other 95 per cent of its cars will all feature some form of electrification by then.

“Out of our line-up, the biggest volume you’re going to have that’s going to help with lowering emissions of CO2 are the internal-combustion-engined cars combined with electrification, in the form of a hybrid,” Mr Tanaka explained.

“Our core strategy is that we want a substantive reduction in CO2. That means we will work on the most prolific of the powertrains, the internal-combustion engine, so we will improve the efficiency of that by combining it with electrification technologies.”

Mazda will take different approaches to market in different countries, so places like Norway, which are aiming to have 100 per cent of new-car sales being in zero-emission vehicles by 2025, will get the BEV.

Countries with less EV infrastructure, and those still burning coal to provide power to them, will get hybrids and range-extenders.

Mr Tanaka believes the Rotary Range Extender will prove a good fit for countries like Australia.

“We would like to implement it in countries that have a requirement for long-distance driving, which would mean that in terms of electrification technology, it would be a range extender or plug-in hybrid that’s the most valid solution (for Australia),” he said.