Mazda has finally announced their long-rumored MX-30 plug-in hybrid, named the MX-30 R-EV, which uses a small rotary engine as a range extender to supplement a now even smaller battery.
The new MX-30 R-EV was shown at the Brussels Motor Show today, though Mazda’s press release is light on details. All it mentions is that the car will have a 17.8kWh battery good for 85km (53mi) of range on the WLTP test cycle. This battery is half the size of the EV’s 35.5kWh, and is paired to an 830cc rotary engine and a 50 liter (13 gallon) gas tank. It will be available in a new “Edition R” trim and color (pictured above) and will feature 1.5kW of V2L “power supply functionality.”
At first glance, the R-EV’s lower range (with half the battery capacity and less-than-half of the range) might suggest a less efficient vehicle, but if the R-EV carries over the EV’s ~5kWh battery holdback, the two seem almost identical in efficiency. The R-EV is 58kg (127lbs) heavier and slightly more powerful (168hp, up from 143hp) than the EV, so both cars have similar performance.
The R-EV will be capable of 36kW DC fast charging, down from 50kW for the EV. Both of these are pretty pedestrian numbers in this day and age, with 350kW chargers propagating throughout Europe. But PHEVs generally do not rely on DC fast charging when they need a quick fill up, so this is less of an achilles heel for a car with a range extender under the hood.
Mazda will offer drivers a choice of three drive modes to control the engine – “normal” which mostly uses the electric motor until battery charge gets low or the driver floors the accelerator, “EV” which will force the engine to stay off as long as possible, and “charge” which will preferentially run the gas engine so you can maintain a certain battery charge percentage. Drivers can set their own preferred percentage, and this can be used, for example, for driving through various EV-only zones which are propagating around some European city centers.
In terms of price and availability, the R-EV will start at the same base price as the EV, as Mazda says it wants to offer buyers a simpler decision to choose the powertrain that’s best for them, and it should start shipping to various countries next quarter.
Earlier this week, Mazda announced the MX-30 EV is coming back to California after spending the better part of a year missing in action with no comment on whether it would be back for the 2023 model year. In its first model year, Mazda planned to sell a paltry 560 vehicles in California only, and ended up selling 505. This MX-30 EV is not available anywhere else in the US, nor is the newly-announced PHEV.
The MX-30 has had somewhat of a tortured existence so far. First announced as a fully electric car, it was praised for its sleek looks, mature interior, and interesting suicide doors.
But when Mazda started talking about and showing the car, it became more and more clear that it… didn’t really want to make an electric car. Before the car even came out, Mazda announced that it was artificially making it slower “to feel more like a gas car.”
Then, when we drove the car, we noticed a lot of design decisions that seemed far more consistent with having an engine than a battery. Not only was all the electric badging quite temporary-looking, but there is a massive empty space under the hood just waiting to be filled by an engine:
Mazda says that their strategy is to offer appropriate powertrains for each region based on that region’s needs, which has translated into EVs for Europe and California, conventional “mild” gas-powered hybrids in other regions, and PHEVs now for Europe.
But… why? The US has much larger distances, and the US’ “road trip culture” is often cited as something that keeps people (wrongly) away from EVs. PHEVs give drivers the ability to stay on electric drive for most driving, but still have a tank for road tripping, so it seems like this would work for the US.
And in Europe, it seems like electric would work great, with some cities banning internal combustion engines and with the whole continent being covered by a quality train network to get between cities when needed. Europe also has much higher petrol prices than the US, and an acute reason to want to avoid using oil – its main supplier, Russia, has just decided to launch an unjustifiable war in Europe, and much of the oil burned on the continent therefore directly funds that war.
But there’s a hitch – incentives. In Europe, PHEVs are actually more common than in the US, despite the factors mentioned above, because it’s quite common for companies to purchase or lease vehicles to employees as company cars, and the companies get incentives for those cars. These cars are commonly plug-in hybrids, and they also commonly never get plugged in.
Meanwhile, in the US, California requires manufacturers to sell a certain amount of zero emission vehicles or else they have to purchase costly ZEV credits from other automakers, so manufacturers often sell EVs only in California in order to meet these regulations. These half-baked EVs are called “compliance cars,” and they have been a common way for manufacturers to get around California’s ZEV regulation for the last decade.
So it seems that a large part of Mazda’s true rationale for these vehicles isn’t what customers need, but how they can best game the system in each territory.
Which is a shame, since this could be a good PHEV. While we were hoping for a full 35.5kWh paired with a small engine, much like the old BMW i3, 85km/53mi is still longer range than other PHEVs on the market. And it’s enough to cover most people’s daily needs, so it’s entirely possible that many R-EV drivers will be able to go months or even a year without filling up on gas.
But the problem is, there are still lots of people who will just never plug their car in. PHEVs have been found to be much less efficient than window stickers claim because of this. While it is attractive to think that we could spread a limited battery supply around to more vehicles by putting, say, 3x20kWh PHEVs on the road instead of one 60kWh EV, the calculus breaks down if people don’t plug those PHEVs in. And we just end up with a bunch of slightly-more-efficient gas cars on the road, using up batteries that could have been put into something that doesn’t use fossil fuels.
We also like that Mazda has announced price parity between the R-EV and the EV. Many other vehicles have a cheaper PHEV, which makes little sense since you’re buying two powertrains instead of one. The BMW i3 again did this right – the PHEV was actually more expensive than the EV, underlining that the EV is the better deal, both for buyers and for the environment. And the i3 was connected to a tiny gas tank, again underlining that it was to be used as a backup, instead of the massive 50L tank on the MX-30.
And most of all, it doesn’t make sense that the car is only available in Europe. Mazda, you screwed up with the MX-30 EV, and everyone knows it. It’s not great. But you have a good-looking car which was designed to be a PHEV from the start, which you could theoretically offer at a competitive price and with a better package (i.e., larger EV range) than competing vehicles.
But, like the EV itself, it kind of feels like you don’t actually want to sell it. Prove us wrong. If you’re proud of this product, let people buy it.
Now… electrify the Miata, next. Please? Come on. We’ve been asking for so long!
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