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MONTEREY, Calif. -- Mazda Motor Corp. executives are considering variants of the high-performance RX-8 that goes on sale in June.

Executives at the vehicle's press introduction here said the company wants to build two-seat coupe and convertible versions.

The four-door, four-seat RX-8 is an expensive vehicle for Mazda to build. It is based on the only platform that the automaker does not share with parent Ford Motor Co. And the rotary engine is used only in the RX-8.

So the steeper development costs have prompted the company to consider model proliferation, said Joseph Bakaj, Mazda's head of global product development.

"If we get more volume, we amortize quicker. This is an all-new sports car platform with a unique collection of parts. I want to reuse that collection of parts with at least one more derivative," Bakaj (pronouced bah-KYE) said.

One reason the new sports car is called the RX-8 is because it is not a true successor to the RX-7, he said. Such a car would have to be a two-door, two-seat vehicle.

But before Mazda rushes to build another RX-7, Bakaj wants to see how the RX-8 does. Mazda hopes to sell about 18,000 units in the United States in 2003, and 30,000 units annually thereafter. That's a big jump; the previous generation RX-7 never broke 7,000 units.

Bakaj said the RX-8 has higher volume potential than a two-seater because of its easier access and ability to carry more people.

But, he said, Mazda will not proliferate the rotary engine outside any pure sports car applications. That means the Miata won't get it.

"Miata is a brand icon." Bakaj said. "It's simple, light and accessible. If you put the rotary into the Miata, you have to uprate the suspension and brakes, and the price creeps up and out of the sweet spot." He said the rotary engine alone costs about $2,000 more than the Miata's four-cylinder piston engine.

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