Editor's letter: Why Mazda isn't just looking at EVs

Mazda UK range side

Mazda currently sells only one EV: the MX-30

Japanese brand believes carbon neutral should be the goal – and is looking at a broad range of technologies to reach it

It’s always fascinating to spend time in the company of Mazda, not least for its more nuanced view on the world and its way of doing things differently.

The latest example came at the Tokyo motor show (Japan Mobility Show) this week – easily the best motor show the world has had since the pandemic – where Mazda stood alone in not revealing a battery-electric vehicle but instead a rotary-powered electric range-extender in a concept that previews the Mazda MX-5 of the future. 

Mazda CFO Jeff Guyton calls Mazda an “intentional follower” as a small car maker who sells in more than 130 markets, with different regulations for many of them.

When it has done EVs, it has of course done them differently, Mazda’s first EV being the Mazda MX-30 that intentionally had a smaller battery of 35kWh because Mazda felt that still provided the range people actually needed rather than what they wanted, the latter figure always higher. It has not been a commercial success and Mazda has since added a range-extender PHEV version – using a rotary, of course – to the MX-30’s line-up to boost its appeal. 

“From a consumer standpoint, people often think that bigger is better, right?” Guyton told me in Japan. “The MX-30, I think, offers people a usable daily driving range. Doesn’t it make sense that if you have a 30-something kWh battery instead of a 100kWh battery, then three people can have those precious resources that are in that battery?

Mazda MX-30

“Then we’ve got three drivers who are ostensibly driving carbon neutral instead of just one. It’s very logical and goes hand in hand with pragmatism with Japan.”

That pragmatism is a reference to why Japan’s automotive industry has persisted with hybrids for so long instead of electric vehicles, because it considers them better in the whole life cycle of a car, something also true of hydrogen, which is why companies like Toyota and Honda have been so keen to pursue it. Japan sees carbon neutrality as the goal and doesn’t dictate the technology about how to get there. 

“In Japan, most of the energy we consume here is imported in one form or another. Japan has been keen to look at a total carbon life cycle than a lot of other countries. In Europe, we’ve had CO2 taxes for a long time but they only looked at the tailpipe.

“The economics of power generation in Japan means it is agnostic to all of that. Hydrogen and, I would argue, hybrids are about using less energy, period, or being more flexible about energy sources. The ability to think differently about what carbon neutral looks like: if it’s carbon neutral, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be EV. It just needs to be carbon neutral to support environmental goals. It’s very pragmatic.”

Mazda MX-5

Guyton cites “maturity of regulation and customer choice” as reasons why Mazda will not go all in on any technology, and it’s easy to see why when you have the indecision around EVs in the UK.

“It is very easy for politicians to follow the tailpipe and say ‘yep, there isn’t one’,” said Guyton in reference to why legislators may steer towards mandating the means to the goal as well as the goal itself. “But the science and technology has to evolve over time. Customer choice is also going to drive some of this stuff. 

“I think in recent days we took a step back in the UK. I’m not that close to it, but I think in some respects it could be a step forward in terms of customer choice. I don’t know the discourse that happened but solving the carbon issue rather than mandating EV and I think we could globally evolve into that place.”

He acknowledges that that’s not going to be the case in China (“they’ve made it [BEVs] a dominant feature of their policy”) and there will be countries like Norway that go their own way.

“But I think over time customer choice and maturity about the solutions we might have, those are things that we can hope for.”

Source: Autocar

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