There’s a lot to like about Mazda’s foray into electric vehicles, but you have to take a step back and not just go with the gut reaction most of us have to the fact that its first EV will have only a 100-mile range.
Yeah, I felt that same reaction at first, too. My 2018 Nissan LEAF, with its theoretical 140-mile range (it’s degraded 15% since I bought it), can be pretty worthless at times, so what good would an EV with even less range do? “Seriously, Mazda, what the #^@!?” I said, and then had to explain to my wife. Yeah, I’m with you guys.
But once I was done with that initial gut reaction, I started to think about the company’s history and it started to make a lot more sense. I still hate to say this, but the company may actually have gotten this right.
Many have criticized Mazda for not embracing electrification sooner, but as Jason at Engineering Explained, well, explained, Mazda was focusing on reducing overall carbon footprints below the fleet averages of the competition, and succeeded at that for five straight years. The only company that was beating it on emissions was Tesla (duh!), as Tesla doesn’t have any tailpipe emissions in its fleet.
Mazda was even beating Toyota environmentally, and that’s despite Toyota’s widespread sale of hybrids while Mazda didn’t offer a single hybrid.
You’re probably asking how in the hell they accomplished that, or think they must have cheated the numbers somehow. It defies common electrification logic to think that Mazda could beat everyone else out (except Tesla) while not offering so much as even a wimpy “mild hybrid.” Surely Mazda played a game with the numbers and got away with looking cleaner while polluting more, right?
The truth is, though, that Mazda’s numbers check out and it was the other automakers who were playing games. Mazda really was the second cleanest automaker for all of those years, and the company did it by making the cleanest ICE cars it could, and offering no high emission vehicles in the mix.
To make its cars cleaner without electrification, Mazda pushed ICE technology to its limits. By carefully controlling the spark in the combustion chamber, it was able to achieve what some called the “Holy Grail” of clean ICE cars: a homogeneous compressed-charge reaction. This gave the low fuel consumption of diesel without the extra pollution, and did it all with a car even peasants could afford, and even did it on regular unleaded (the peasant fuel of choice). Then, it sold a bunch of clean cars.
Mazda also avoided doing what most other manufacturers do: use hybrids and EVs to get away with selling gross polluters elsewhere in the fleet.
Automakers other than Mazda and Tesla use their EVs to pull a fast one on regulators and the environment. Sure, clean cars like the Toyota Prius, Nissan LEAF, or Chevrolet Bolt EV are much better for the environment than other vehicles, but only when considered in a vacuum. The reality is that these manufacturers are also selling big, nasty crossovers and pickup trucks. The EVs and hybrids lower the fleet average emissions and fuel consumption, but the automaker then turns around and jacks the emissions right back up to the limits by offering these other dirty vehicles, which sell in greater numbers.
This allows automakers like Toyota to earn an undeserved green image while still selling the same dirty vehicles it has been selling for decades, and with no changes. It’s just greenwashing.
The only two companies that didn’t do this were Tesla and Mazda. Tesla went completely in on EVs to become the cleanest automaker, while Mazda went all in on making the cleanest gas-powered fleet possible without playing any regulatory tricks.
Now that we can see that Mazda is a company that really takes being green seriously, we need to take a second look at the MX-30 and figure out why it went with such a low range vehicle.
Mazda knows that one of the most environmentally impactful elements of EV production is making battery cells. Sure, Mazda could have made one that had a battery 2 or 3 times larger, and got a lot more range. Instead, its first EV very intentionally only has a 100-mile range from a 35.5 kWh battery pack. This means that the vehicle will basically only get used locally, and maybe for short regional trips, but not much else. But, that covers over 95% of most drivers’ needs, and like my Nissan LEAF that I don’t really like, it will do very well nearly all trips.
My second car, a VW Jetta, has been in my driveway for four years, and it only has about 10,000 miles on it. That’s 2500 miles per year. So yes, a short-range EV can do most of the heavy lifting, and then the EV doesn’t need to drag around a bunch of useless extra batteries just to cover that last 5% of driving needs.
Mazda knows that people don’t want to buy a second car, so it is doing what other automakers did in the compliance car days, and is giving free rentals for 10 days per year to the people who buy an MX-30. That would enable them to use the cleanest EV they can while also not being stranded when it comes to longer trips.
Mazda is also planning to offer a small rotary-powered range extender for the vehicle later, per the press release. “The rotary generator will mark the return of our unique rotary powertrain,” Jeff Guyton, President of Mazda North American Operations, said. “This technology is being engineered for nearly silent operation and will replenish the battery rather than drive the wheels. As a result, the MX-30 will always drive like the engaging EV that it is, but with freedom to charge from the wall or on the go.”
Now, I know that CleanTechnica readers will likely go back to The Grinch again, but before you flame me to death in the comments, keep in mind that Mazda doesn’t just throw a dirty engine in and call it “clean.”. Mazda actually has the technological chops now to make the range-extended version of this car the cleanest plugin hybrid the automotive industry has ever seen, and in a vehicle that can actually act like an EV 95% of the time.
As I pointed out in this other article, a clean rotary engine has a lot of advantages over every other type of range extender out there. It’s lightweight, so the EV won’t pull hundreds of pounds of dead weight around all the time. It’s compact, which enables the EV to use a skateboard architecture and won’t compromise on interior space for the tiny engine. Finally, the little rotary will get great fuel efficiency using Skyactiv-X technology and only running at its most fuel efficient.
Official numbers for that upcoming REx version of the MX-30 aren’t out, but expect something much better post-battery mileage from Mazda than you can get from Toyota, and in a vehicle with 5x the battery range of the Prius Prime, and 2.5x the range of the Rav4 Prime.
Plus, Mazda isn’t using its MX-30 to greenwash and sell dirty crossovers and trucks, so it deserves to be cut a little slack while it transitions to EVs this decade.
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