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Mazda to start leasing Gas-Hydrogen RX-8's

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Mazda Motor Corp. said on Wednesday it will begin leasing a dual-fuel car that can run on both hydrogen and gasoline in the auto industry's latest effort to reduce oil consumption in vehicles.

Most major auto makers are developing zero-emission hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars as a potential alternative to today's conventional gasoline and diesel engine cars, but believe they are decades away from mass production due to high development costs and lack of infrastructure.

Mazda said the RX-8 Hydrogen RE, based on its popular RX-8 sports car, gets around these problems by running on gasoline in the absence of a hydrogen fueling station, and using existing engine parts and production facilities to lower costs.

The car is powered by Mazda's iconic rotary engine and can switch between hydrogen and gasoline fuel with the flick of a switch. It can cruise for a maximum 62 miles on hydrogen and 41 miles on gasoline it said.

Fuel cell cars, meanwhile, use hydrogen to first generate electricity through a fuel cell stack for power, and require an electric motor.

A rotary engine is suitable for hydrogen fuel because the separate chambers for fuel intake, combustion and exhaust significantly reduce the danger of the fuel's backfiring compared with a conventional engine.

Mazda, the world's only maker of rotary engines, said it would lease the model to Japanese oil refiner Idemitsu Kosan Co. and gas trading company Iwatani International Corp. starting in March for 420,000 yen ($3,577) a month.

It plans to lease another eight to public and private-sector customers by the end of this year.

Japan has 13 state-owned hydrogen fueling stations, while energy-related companies such as Idemitsu and Iwatani also own their own fueling facilities.

Ford Motor Co. owns a controlling interest in Mazda.

Since the rotary is better suited to this duel setup, could this be the start of a new rotary age?

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