With the flurry of press around Mazda's current hybrid Hydrogen \ Gas Rotary engine based cars, and hybrid cars in general, you might think this is a new trend. Not so. Mazda has been developing hybrid and hydrogen vehicle technology for over 15 years (almost 10 years longer that any other major manufacturer). Here's a look back at major milestones in these vehicles.
(click images for full-size view)
1991: Introduced to the world at the Tokyo Auto Show, the HR-X is the first Mazda hydrogen-powered Wankel Rotary engined car. The car features gull-wing doors, space-age materials and manufacturing techniques
1992: Hydrogen fuel-cell powered golf cart (Hydrogen Fuel Cell producing electricity and powering electric motors)
1993: HR-X2 - Further development of the HR-X platform, featuring fully recyclable materials
1993: Hydrogen-powered MX-5 Miata. The first standard Mazda model powered by hydrogen Wankel Rotary engine.
1995: Japan's first public road test of a Hydrogen Vehicle. In this case, the Capella Cargo. (essentially the same vehicle as the Ford Escort Wagon in the US)
1997: The Mazda Demio FC-EV. In 1995 Mazda began pursuing hydrogen fuel-cell based electric vehicles while simultaneously developing the hydrogen rotary engine. This is the first commercial Mazda vehicle to be powered by a fuel-cell.
2001: The MPV FC-EV. This vehicle was the result of continued work in the Methanol-Reforming type of fuel-cell. This became the first fuel-cell vehicle to be tested on public roads in Japan.
2003: The RX-8 Hydrogen RE Wankel Rotary hybrid. This represents the world's first hybrid hydrogen\gasoline rotary engine. The car has both gasoline and high-pressure hydrogen tanks and has a switch for going between either fuel. This is still being used as a development platform, and available as a commercial lease vehicle in Japan. Several RX-8 Hydrogen RE models have also found their way into official government use as well.
This is the Mazda5 Hydrogen RE Hybrid vehicle. Not only is this the first front-drive rotary engined Mazda, it also has a front-drive electric motor, effectively making it a tri-fuel vehicle or Tribrid.
Mazda has been developing hydrogen vehicle technology almost 10 years longer than most major manufacturers, and could have a mass produced Hydrogen\Gasoline hybrid RX-8 available to the public as soon as 2010, assuming the infrastructure is developed to support it.
Here are some more pictures of Mazda's Hydrogen vehicle technology:
RX-8 Hydrogen fuel connection
RX-8 Hydrogen RE being refilled (the high-pressure hydrogen tank is visible in the trunk)
Hydrogen tank monitoring guages, and gasoline\hydrogen switch