Car Companies Might Be Overcompensating With EV Batteries, Too

Illustration for article titled Car Companies Might Be Overcompensating With EV Batteries, Too
Photo: Mazda

With its 35.5-kWh battery pack, roughly 130-mile range, and 143 horsepower, the Mazda MX-30 is small beans compared to other electric cars in its class. The decision to scale down the battery is antithetical to pretty much every other automaker’s design philosophy of larger batteries with massive ranges. And while the world needs more small, cheap EVs, Mazda says its newest model is inspired by a desire to cut carbon emissions.

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“Aren’t EVs supposed to cut down on carbon emissions by their very nature,” I hear you cry, and you’re not entirely wrong there. But there are plenty of complicating factors. While many findings contradict each other, there is research that indicates that the manufacturing of an EV battery can create more carbon dioxide than an environmentally friendly ICE model depending on where the battery is made. Many EV plants still rely on coal power, ultimately negating the environmental benefits you’d expect from going electric.

Certainly, the idea is for EVs to be part of a switch to cleaner infrastructure as a whole. An EV on a coal grid today is a stepping stone to an EV on a renewable energy grid tomorrow, but these are questions of tomorrow not today.

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And while we’re talking about today, if you factor in potential pollution as a result of improper battery disposal, plus electricity to charge a car can still create emissions, depending on where you live, EVs look less and less green.

Christian Schultze, director and deputy general manager at Mazda Europe’s R&D center, recently spoke with Automotive News Europe to say that the decision to go smaller on the battery side created a “responsibly” sized power unit. From the article:

Mazda is basing this claim on a life-cycle assessment of total CO2 emissions, saying that the MX-30 with a 35.5 kWh battery pack is comparable to a diesel Mazda 3 compact hatchback on that basis. Schultze said that even after replacing the battery pack, something that could occur after 160,000 km (100,000 miles) of use, the MX-30's total CO2 emissions are still similar to the diesel’s.

Mazda says that a 95-kWh battery pack would have substantially higher CO2 emissions from Day One, both from the production of the larger pack and higher electricity consumption. And when that larger pack needs to be replaced, overall emissions will jump again, Mazda says.

It’s an interesting approach, one that challenges some of the current assumptions we hold about EVs. They might not be unquestionably better for the environment than ICE cars. It also challenges the idea that EVs have to compete directly with ICE vehicles in terms of range. While the smaller MX-30 has a shorter range than say, a large powerful Tesla Model S, it’ll be just fine for 95 percent of daily driving. According to the National Household Travel Survey from 2017, the latest year for which data is available, only 4.9 percent of vehicle trips had a distance of 31 miles or more.

Mazda has long been obsessive about efficiency, small size, and lightweight. Look at the Miata, for instance. It’s just nice to see this idea of minimalism applied to ideas about the environment and EVs.

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I guess now it’s a question if car buyers will go in on it, or if we’ll all keep buying more than we need, just like we always do.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Freelancer. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

I'm a Mazda fan but this offering is crap.  It's just a compliance car that they have no interest in even making.  I can't imagine the range anxiety in that thing.