By Philippe Crowe

It looks like the Chevy Volt will soon have some more competition on its way from an initially Japanese market range-extended electric car from Mazda, and it will be rotary-based.

According to Autocar, Mazda CEO Takashi Yamanouchi confirmed during a speech in Moscow that the company is still committed to the rotary engine and it will come back next year in Mazda’s new take on something akin to GM’s Volt/Ampera.

The rotary engine has been the subject of many research projects at Mazda since its introduction more than 40 years ago. Hydrogen-powered versions (pictured) have been developed, as well as test mules for it to run on all kinds or renewable energy.

"When I joined the company in 1967, it was the rotary engine that motivated my decision," Yamanouchi said. "We continue to explore ways to improve the fuel efficiency and capabilities of the rotary engine so it can be the primary power source of a car again."

Mazda recently tested an electric version of its Mazda5 minivan that used a hydrogen-fueled rotary engine as a range-extending generator. No word yet from Yamanouchi as to what the vehicle’s purpose, size or layout would be.

The company is getting ready to launch in Moscow the new generation of its Mazda6 sedan and it would not be a stretch to imagine this new sedan fitted with the electric motor plus rotary range extender combination as a response to Toyota’s popular Camry Hybrid.

Yamanouchi did say it will only be leased in Japan initially.

The benefits of using the rotary engine as a generator are huge. First, the rotary engine is a very light assembly, which allows for interesting weight gains when compared to a conventional inline-four cylinder unit; vibrations and harshness are also greatly reduced.

The major drawbacks of a rotary come from accelerating and decelerating, causing rapid wear and consumption issues. Using the rotary as a generator allows the rotary to stay close to its ideal 2,000 rpm, preventing the wear and consumption issues.

Long known as an ardent proponent of the rotary engine, Yamanouchi has also been quoted many times as saying research on this unique type of engine will continue at Mazda for as long as he is around.