Currently reading: Analysis: These are the hidden costs of EV range
Buyers want long-range EVs, but bigger batteries offset the environmental benefits
James Attwood, digital editor
News
4 mins read
19 October 2020

Despite the vast advances in electric car technology in recent years, range anxiety remains an issue for prospective buyers. A survey last year by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), for example, showed that only 50% of consumers would consider an EV as a main car if it offered a range of 200 miles, but that figure rose to 90% if the range increased to 300 miles.

That’s reflected in the success of cars such as the Hyundai Kona, Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model 3 and other models with ranges close to or exceeding 300 miles – and several EVs with even longer ranges are planned.

But adding more lithium ion batteries to increase range comes at a price: they add to the cost of EVs for consumers, and the extra weight affects the dynamic performance of the vehicle while reducing its efficiency. And, crucially, adding more batteries adds to the CO2 used to produce an EV, in turn impacting one of their key environmental benefits.

Some car firms have now started to push back against the trend for bigger batteries. Mazda recently launched its first electric production car, the MX-30, which has a 35.5kWh battery offering a claimed 124-mile range. While the range is smaller than that of most of the MX-30’s electric SUV rivals, the firm’s European R&D boss, Joachim Kunz, says it was developed with the concept of “right-sizing” in mind.

“We don’t believe a very big battery, which means a large and heavy vehicle, is the right direction for the future for two aspects: the environment and for being fun to drive,” said Kunz. He noted Mazda’s emphasis on reducing ‘well-to-wheel’ CO2 emissions, which provides a measure of the total CO2 used during a vehicle’s creation and lifespan.

“Battery production comes with very high CO2 emissions from the material extraction and production,” he said. “This ‘backpack’ is much smaller if the battery is smaller, and during usage the energy consumption is lower because of the reduced weight.”

Mazda settled on the MX-30’s range by researching vehicle usage among its customers, balancing it against vehicle dynamics and production CO2 output. “We believe the normal usage is customers charging at home in the week, but for longer trips the range is sufficient to reach the next public charging station,” said Kunz.

In the UK and other markets, Mazda is developing a range-extender version of the MX-30, featuring a small rotary engine, which the firm says will offer similar range to a current petrol car but with less overall environmental impact than an EV with similar range.

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Mazda’s decision is backed by data from the UK government’s National Travel Survey. It showed that the average car journey last year was 8.4 miles – a figure that hasn’t changed since 2009. Meanwhile, RAC Foundation research found that UK drivers average 10,377 miles a year – around 28 miles a day – with EV owners averaging 9435 miles.

Mazda isn’t alone in its stance. Volvo spin-off Polestar – which recently published data showing the CO2 impact of its EV production – is readying a production version of the Precept concept. Polestar boss Thomas Ingenlath hinted the car’s range would be around 300 miles in order to be “competitive” in the market but added the industry “cannot drift away in that race for range and really get into an irresponsible direction.”

He added: “If you talk about making a car more efficient I’m all for it, but if you’re just packing in more and more kilowatt hours just to make the best range, it doesn’t help us get closer to a sustainable car.”

Ingenlath said the focus should instead be on creating fast-charging infrastructure to allow cars to be charged more quickly and more easily.

Through actions such as releasing its cars’ CO2 production impact and increasing the use of recycled materials, Polestar has made sustainability a key part of its marketing push. The question is whether buyers agree. According to KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive survey, 98% of industry executives see sustainability as a key differentiator, compared with 83% of consumers.

The survey found that 42% of executives and consumers felt sustainability would become a product feature, with KPMG suggesting car makers should publicise the CO2 impact of a vehicle’s build to – as Polestar is doing. But the challenge will be getting consumers to agree that sustainability is as important as a long range when considering an electric car.

An industry hedging its bets

Mazda, like many other car makers, is not committing fully to electric cars. Instead, it is adopting a ‘multi-solution’ powertrain strategy that will allow it to vary its offering according to market demand and needs.

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The firm’s vehicles are based on a small platform – used for the MX-30 EV, the 3 hatch and the CX-30 SUV – and a large platform that underpins vehicles such as CX-5 SUV. While the small platform is engineered to house EV powertrains, the large platform can be electrified with hybrid and plug-in hybrid systems.

“Customers who drive longer distances won’t buy an EV anyway: they’ll go for a hybrid or plug-in hybrid,” said Mazda’s European R&D boss Joachim Kunz, who added that such vehicles would be key in countries with minimal EV support infrastructure.

Mazda has also invested in research into renewable synthetic fuels, which could allow combustion engines to run without emitting CO2 – which, Kunz noted, would make them as clean, or cleaner, as an EV.

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19 October 2020

Spin it all you want, the Peugeot e206 has four full size doors (a slightly smaller boot 311 vs 366 liters) a bigger battery (50 vs 35.5), longer range (210 vs 125 miles) and still weighs 200kg less than the MX-30.

Also, Mazda's claim that a bigger battery will make it worse than an ICE car (CO2-wise) is based on the assumption that the battery will need to be replaced after 150,000km. Meanwhile, Toyota is offering a 1,000,000 km guarantee on its first EV.

19 October 2020

So the e206 and MX30 are different segment cars. One is a supermini, whereas one is a B-Segment crossover SUV style thingy. The mazda is 340mm longer, 50mm wider and 140mm taller. That's a lot of extra metal to cover and that all adds weight. Mazda's vehicle is a 'lifestyle' offering, where it is more style over substance whereas the Peugeot is a White Goods A-B transport solution.

Mazda are a small player in the scheme of things as they are independant and don't have the same sales volumes as a big player like Toyota to bring battery tech research in house. They most likely are using off the shelf products rather than completely bespoke ones and so that will limit what guarantees they can offer.

19 October 2020
tkemp22 wrote:

So the e206 and MX30 are different segment cars. One is a supermini, whereas one is a B-Segment crossover SUV style thingy. The mazda is 340mm longer, 50mm wider and 140mm taller. That's a lot of extra metal to cover and that all adds weight. Mazda's vehicle is a 'lifestyle' offering, where it is more style over substance whereas the Peugeot is a White Goods A-B transport solution.

Mazda are a small player in the scheme of things as they are independant and don't have the same sales volumes as a big player like Toyota to bring battery tech research in house. They most likely are using off the shelf products rather than completely bespoke ones and so that will limit what guarantees they can offer.

Its a bigger car on the outside, but not much bigger on the inside because they will put a rotary range extender in other versions of it. So that big bonnet and the extra weight it requires is literal dead weight for the BEV version.

As for the tech, they already use Toyota's hybrid system, are partialy owned by Toyota and have announced a join jenture to develop EVs.

This car may suit some people and thats great, the more EVs sold, the better. But they should not be speading missinformation about EVs just because their current offering is behind the competition. 

19 October 2020

1 million km guarantee, Id love to see the wording on that, oh and a decent Toyota bev. Anyhow, article should have had more focus on charging speed, for most people 200 miles with a 15 minute charge time to go from 15-90 percent is plenty for those couple of long distant trips a year.  It is also not that far off

19 October 2020
xxxx wrote:

1 million km guarantee, Id love to see the wording on that, oh and a decent Toyota bev. Anyhow, article should have had more focus on charging speed, for most people 200 miles with a 15 minute charge time to go from 15-90 percent is plenty for those couple of long distant trips a year.  It is also not that far off

Agreed. But at least they are not claiming that it will need a new battery every 150,000km. I also agree about the charging times. Another unfortunate side effect of the small battery is the 50kW max charge rate when most competitors are at 100kW. 

19 October 2020
Mazda's approach seems disingenuous. If the goal is to cut battery CO2 emissions, there are other ways than fielding an uncompetitive range figure:

- Source the cells from a renewable-powered factory. Around half the emissions in most EV manufacturing studies come from the factory's energy supply.

- Source raw materials close to the factory, eliminating transport emissions.

- Ensure that renewables and electric vehicles are the norm at mining sites, rather than diesel vehicles and generators. Combined with the previous two factors, this would make battery production emissions negligible. However, Mazda is not taking responsibility for their cells' manufacturing as far as I know.

- Allow a smaller battery by designing an extremely aerodynamic car that gets more miles per kilowatt-hour, like the Tesla Model 3 or Hyundai Ioniq. The Mazda is a crossover, so clearly they're not doing this.

- Allow a smaller battery by building the car out of lightweight materials to make the car more efficient, like the carbon fibre/thermoplastic/aluminium BMW i3 (which is the lightest car that company makes). The Mazda is exceptionally heavy for such a small-batteried car, so clearly they're not doing this. Also notable that they aren't taking a leaf out of the i3 and Polestar book of heavily using recycled or sustainable materials.

- Allow a smaller battery by building a car with an exceptionally efficient powertrain, which is Hyundai/Kia's magic trick. No idea if this applies for the BEV version of the MX30, but certainly not for the range extender.

So no, Mazda is not fielding a low-range car out of concern for the environment: you could tell this when they published their suspiciously detail-sparse infographic 'study' last year. They're being forced into building this car, so haven't invested in how to maximise energy density, or annexed enough supply for a large number of long-ranged cars, or made efforts to produce them cleanly. Instead they're trying to poison the well for competition with their marketing. The Toyota "self-charging" approach.

The old chestnut about how few miles people do on average is what Nissan, Renault and BMW used to bring up half a decade ago when their cars had similar range. Now they can go further, they're selling a lot better. People don't buy cars for their average use (unless it's as a second car - which, again, not environmentally beneficial), they think about what it will be like to live with on niche occasions too.

My opinion, cars need to be aiming at a minimum 180 miles WLTP range; good for at least a couple of hours' winter motorway driving. Maybe that will become surplus to requirements when cars can charge at 300 kW and there's a reliable similar-speed network to support them. But for now, no, 124 miles doesn't cut it, and there is no excuse.

19 October 2020
@Vertigo, you make excellent points, yes these lower range cars shouldn't be claiming to be more environmentally friendly or responsible as, like you pointed out they aren't using recycled materials or claiming responsible mining etc, however the mx30, honda e, mini e etc would all suit me perfectly, their given range is more than adequate for me if only the price was lower. Having not seen an mx30, I can't comment but the honda does feel like a premium product which goes some way to justifying it's high price, I'd imagine that the mini is likewise, in spite of their short range.

19 October 2020

The last three lines, a synthetic fuel that will be able to run as clean as an EV, where has this come from?, if this is for real, why are we that bothered about EV range?

19 October 2020
Current EVs have lower life cycle emissions, and are on a technology path to ever decreasing emissions (as we start recycling more and mining less.) One EVs start reaching end of life em masse, battery recycling will become a vast industry.

The writer seems to have swallowed Mazda's press release whole. It's not a cunning plan, it's a marketing strategy to cover up their failure to future proof their business.

19 October 2020

.............when I can do in one my regular 500 mile trip to, from and around my business area, in a day. With all credit to the automotive engineers who have worked tirelessly for over 30 years to have my "distance to empty" show 850 miles when filling up after such a trip - during which I have far more constructive things to do than to sit waiting for a battery to charge.

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