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by Jez Spinks

The global boss of Mazda has made a stunning revelation at the 2011 Tokyo motor show that the company could merge its MX-5 roadster and RX-8 replacement into one single sports car.

Takashi Yamanouchi told a small group of Australian journalists at the show that a rotary-powered MX-5 is also a possibility for the future as Mazda considered its options for its trademark piston-less powerplant.

The company’s current rotary-powered RX-8 four-door coupe – which actually shares its chassis with the MX-5 – ceases production in June 2012, leaving Mazda with a gap to fill within the next few years.

“Production of the RX-8 does stop in 2012 but what comes after that I’m not in a position to say,” said Yamanouchi-san. “But I have been saying everywhere that we will continue research on the rotary engine. We will not extinguish the flame of the rotary engine.

“That kind of product is iconic for our brand. So the current MX-5 or RX-8 we have decided in the future to maintain that type of [sports car] product.

“I can’t say, however, that they will be separate … they may be merged into one.

“[We] can’t rule out the possibility [of a rotary-powered MX-5].”

The next-generation MX-5 due in 2013 is expected to be powered by a conventional four-cylinder engine under the ‘SkyActiv’ banner – Mazda’s name for its new suite of technologies designed to improve fuel efficiency.

A replacement for the RX-8 still seems much further away, whether Mazda decides to combine the coupe and MX-5 roadster into one model – with a hardtop coupe-convertible similar to the Mercedes-Benz SLK or BMW Z4 one possibility.

Mazda is also yet to determine whether the next-generation rotary engine would continue as a conventional combustion engine or work in tandem with other power sources.

“I think there are two major directions we are discussing [for rotary]. One is the application of the rotary as a conventional powerplant,” said Yamanouchi-san.

“We need a measure a plan to upgrade the [fuel] efficiency and torque [of the engine] otherwise we don’t see much progress [from the current rotary in the RX-8].

But the other option is a range-extender [rotary] powered by hydrogen. Our government agencies are already using it [as a prototype] – and it emits only steam. Rotary is used solely to produce the power.