by Ian Rowley

Mazda's novel approach to hydrogen-fueled cars is a step closer to hitting the streets of Japan. This week the company revealed that it has received government approval to begin leasing its ingenious RX-8 Hydrogen RE. From next month, the Hiroshima-based Mazda will deliver a couple of the green sports coupes to two Japanese companies. By year-end, the figure will likely rise to ten.

This RX-8--shown off at the Tokyo auto show last autumn--is certainly novel. Its rotary engine burns either gasoline or hydrogen at the flick of a switch with the latter emitting no carbon dioxide and almost no nitrogen oxide. Of course, a few environmentally friendly RX-8s aren't going to make a huge difference to global warming, but dual-fuel vehicles could at least help smooth the transition to hydrogen-powered cars. By providing a back-up fuel source, Mazda points out drivers will be more comfortable using hydrogen power in areas where fueling stations aren't readily available. That's important given the short distances hydrogen vehicles can manage on a single tank. And while the $3,500 a monthly charge for the RX-8 is far from cheap, it's about half that of fuel cell vehicles leased by rivals in Japan.

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