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Mazda unveils hydrogen hybrid

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 like standard engines.

Mazda unveiled a new kind of hybrid vehicle on 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 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 gas when hydrogen runs out.

Like other global automakers, Mazda, an affiliate of Ford Motor Co., has been working on hydrogen vehicles.

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 kilometers (62 miles) to 200 kilometers (124 miles).

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 leasing fee will be similar to the predecessor at about 400,000 yen (US$3,500; EUR2,500) a month, according to Mazda, and 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, inspired by flowing wind.

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

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

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 Motor Co., has 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 4 percent 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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