Mazda, which started selling rotary-engine cars in the United States in 1970, will phase out the rotary engine next summer when the last RX-8 sports car rolls off the line. But the company says there are two ways the rotary could be resurrected.
The conventional way would be to build an improved version, with better fuel economy and more low-speed torque -- a characteristic weakness of the current rotary.
The second -- something Mazda has never before mentioned publicly -- would be to use the rotary as an onboard generator for an extended-range electric vehicle similar to the Chevrolet Volt.
Mazda President Takashi Yamanouchi outlined the possibilities in an interview with Japan's Nikkei Sangyo business daily.
Mazda plans to unveil its first gasoline-electric hybrid in 2013, although it is based on Toyota technology and is expected to be closer to the Prius than the Volt.
If Mazda can salvage the rotary, which Mazda first took to market in Japan in its Cosmo Sport in 1967, Yamanouchi wants to keep that tradition alive.
"The rotary engine is a symbol for those of us at Mazda," he said. "I am hoping to revive it together with our new eco technology."