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Mazda unveils new hydrogen hybrid vehicle with rotary engine

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Mazda unveiled a new kind of hybrid vehicle Tuesday that runs on hydrogen fuel powering an electric motor. The Japanese automaker said it will be available for leasing in Japan next year.

The Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid, shown to reporters ahead of its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show later this month, operates on a rotary engine, which has a reputation for being quiet because it doesn't have pistons as standard engines do.

The vehicle is powered by energy produced when hydrogen combines with oxygen in the air to emit only clean water. A conventional rotary engine runs on gasoline, but the one in the new hybrid runs on hydrogen stored in a tank, although it can switch to gasoline when hydrogen runs out.

Like other global automakers, Mazda, an affiliate of Ford Motor Co., has been working on hydrogen vehicles as consumers grow more interested in automobiles that don't rely so heavily on fossil fuels.

Mazda officials said the latest hydrogen hybrid is an improvement over its previous hydrogen vehicle, leased since 2006, extending its run on a full tank of hydrogen from 100 kilometres to 200 kilometres.

The new car also has a lithium-ion battery that drives the motor and recharges itself using energy from braking, further conserving on electricity. Mazda refused to say what supplier was providing the battery.

The company said it has no plans to lease the car outside Japan.

The leasing fee will be similar to the predecessor at about US$3,500 a month, according to Mazda, so it's aimed at government and ecological organizations.

At its research facility in Yokohama, Mazda also showed a ``concept car,'' or show model, called Taiki, that it said was inspired by flowing wind.

Its curvaceous surface creased with swooping lines, the slinky car looked like a metal stingray.

Laurens van den Acker, general manager of design, said the sportscar highlights the Hiroshima-based automaker's innovation in design.

Its shape developed from studies of sheer fabric fluttering in the wind, and its interior was based on ``koinobori,'' or carp-shaped decorations of cloth that Japanese put up to sway in the wind to celebrate Children's Day, a national holiday, said chief designer Atsuhiko Yamada.

``Air is a very important substance, but it is invisible,'' he said in explaining the design challenges.

Mazda has been marking growing sales at a time when some automakers, including Ford, have been struggling to make a turnaround amid faltering sales and cost cutting.

Mazda's global sales for the current fiscal year is expected to be up four per cent to a record high 1.35 million vehicles, surpassing the company's previous record set in 1990, as it boosts vehicle sales in North America and Europe, offsetting flat sales in Japan.

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Mazda unveils new hydrogen hybrid vehicle with rotary engine
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