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Mazda's MX-30 BEV's smallish battery and low range excuse

It came out today in a couple outlets, originating with this report from Automotive News Europe, that the 35.5 Kwh battery pack in the new MX-30 which is estimated for a range just shy of 125 miles at maximum, is more environmentally responsible according to Mazda than larger battery packs and their subsequent longer range (90-100 kwh batteries that can do 200-300 miles depending on vehicle).

That’s an interesting take on Mazda’s part. Not that they don’t have a point, but it does make their BEV a tough sell in a market that demands longer range EVs in order to be more marketable to the masses currently driving around in their internal combustion vehicles that ultimately are more polluting in the long term.

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They make the assertion that the production of BEVs, especially the production of the battery itself, is much more carbon intensive than making a conventional internal combustion vehicle. Of course over the lifetime of the vehicle, the idea is that the lower carbon output of the battery electric car will eventually overcome that ‘debt’. Mazda took it upon themselves to use one of their more efficient internal combustion offerings in Europe as their comparison point, the Mazda 3 diesel.

The 3 diesel likely regularly exceeds 42 MPG (US) in highway driving situations like most compact cars with diesels do.

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The provide a graph:

Illustration for article titled Mazdas MX-30 BEVs smallish battery and low range excuse
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The red line is the diesel Mazda 3, white line is the 35.5 kwh BEV, green line a 95 kwh BEV. They also factor in that at 160,000 miles (nearly 100,000 miles) is when the battery should be replaced to maintain optimal range/performance.

So, as you can see on the graph, just after mid way to 100,000 miles, the 35.5 kwh BEV has “paid” its debt and is less carbon intense than the diesel 3. Right at 100,000 (battery replacement), the 35.5 kwh BEV jumps just barely back above the diesel for carbon output throughout its life, and then shortly is back under it before the end of the graph. It would appear that the 95 kwh BEV would maybe just barely intersect the diesel for carbon output closer to 150,000 miles if its battery were not ever replaced by the time it gets there, let alone the even bigger gap if the battery gets replaced at 100,000 per Mazda recommendations. 150,000 is also the general rule of thumb automotive companies and their engineers use as their target vehicle lifetime.

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It’s an odd justification on Mazda’s part. While they may technically be correct with their assessment, it will undoubtedly not play well with consumers who will always prefer the convenience of a longer range vehicle. Only the small handful of truly carbon-obsessed/environment-oriented folks are actually going to care about this.

This also begs to be asked: Tesla already has a number of higher mileage Model Ss that have gotten well above 200,000 miles on their original battery pack. Does Tesla have better battery chemistry that lasts longer than what Mazda so far has (and whoever their supplier is)? They also have some interesting recommendations on charging habits to ensure a prolonged battery life.

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Undoubtedly, if the larger capacity batteries can be made to last longer than the traditional “designed vehicle lifetime” target (150,000 miles) this can make Mazda’s argument moot. That target is factoring in that internal combustion engines do wear out and require more intensive and expensive maintenance as they age. Battery pack aside as they get way up there in miles, battery electrics require virtually no maintenance of their drivetrain. And the aggressive regenerative braking means the conventional brake pads and rotors don’t get used too frequently either, further reducing another common wear item that would need to be replaced a couple times in a vehicle’s lifetime. One could argue that if you plan on replacing the battery pack once at 150,000 miles and go another 150,000 on that replacement pack, I see no reason why 300,000 miles on a BEV would be difficult to achieve. And if you take care to heed the charging advice that Tesla gives its customers, battery packs can be serviceable well after that point in time.

Of course, designing vehicles that could last indefinitely with minimal downtime for service would also adversely impact vehicle sales at some point, no? Maybe OEMs would rather not make vehicles that robust for their own survival’s sake.

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Either way, interesting take by Mazda. I also just appreciate how it puts diesel in the conversation for the very reason Europe encouraged its adoption in the first place: lower carbon impact thanks to its efficiency. But at the end of the day, if you don’t have to replace a battery pack at all for the first 150,000 miles of a vehicle’s service life, their argument becomes moot. And eventually, I suspect advances in battery chemistry and elements used in their production will flip this script on its head.

So for now, I’m going to say Mazda has a point, but it’s also shortsighted on their part to not go after what consumers will ultimately prefer and eventually their current observations will not be applicable given advances in the future that are sure to come. And normally, this is where I give my plea to not detract from diesel’s contribution as reducing carbon impact while in transition to a cleaner technology. But that’s another huge argument for another post.

It’s one of those “You’re technically right, but you’re also short-sighted” moments for Mazda.

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