Mazda - Overview of Green Car Initiatives

Written By: David S.

Edited By: Assen Gueorguiev

Mazda: Focused on Reality for Green Car Development

There is a division in the automobile manufacturing world. While most brands focus their attention on hybrids and all-electric vehicles (EVs), Mazda quietly focuses on developing technologies that increase fuel efficiency for gasoline powered vehicles. That approach has cost Mazda quite a bit of heckling from the automotive world. Perhaps the joke is on those who laughed. 

If you consider that the green car industry's focus is on developing cars that run on alternative fuels, then what Mazda is doing seems all wrong. If you look at green cars -- those hybrids and All Electric Vehicles -- they use gasoline and/or electricity, or just electricity. The production of most electricity still requires the burning of coal, thus the benefits of Hybrids and EVs still in a way support a dirty industry. The real benefit depends on where in the process you measure the environmental impact. The other kicker is that most green vehicles require Lithium batteries. Lithium is a peak mineral. It is finite as a resource, and that is going to be a problem in not so many years. To make the switch to all hybrids or all-electric vehicles will require more Lithium then we can produce long-term. 

The Lithium Time Bomb

Lithium is primarily produced in Chile, though there is a reserve in China near Tibet. Globally, there are a few other places where Lithium is found, but economically, it is too expense to extract. What this means for the automotive world is that the hybrid and all-electric vehicles are in the same boat as traditional gas vehicles are. Oil too is a peak resource. So what is Mazda up to here?

Mazda's Reluctance to go Hybrid

The primary goal of Mazda is to keep pace with the current technology within the automobile world, and at the same time develop a long-term strategy that empowers the company to deliver cars that are fun to drive. When it comes to hybrid vehicles, Mazda has shied away from true hybrid technology and instead focused on improving fuel economy for gasoline powered engines that keep pace with hybrid mileage and emissions. They have been successful with that endeavor too. The 2014 Mazda 2 with a 1.5L four-cylinder gasoline engine achieves mileage of 35 MPG/highway, and 29 MPG/city. The highly drivable Mazda 3 four-door with a 2.0L gasoline engine offers mileage of 41 MPG highway and 30 MPG city. In fact, most of the 2014/2015 Mazda vehicles have good mileage ratings. The focus here is on higher compression and more power from low-end RPMs. The added fuel economy still places Mazda in the realm of hybrids, as many Mazdas are ultra-low-emission vehicles. The Mazda 3 is rated by the EPA for California as a level II Ultra-Low-Emission Vehicle. The plus for Mazda drivers is that these vehicles are gasoline-powered, and that means that fuel is only as far as the next gas station. There is a concern with EV drivers about running out of juice. Mazda is delivering nearly the same environmental benefits as many hybrids without utilizing hybrid technology. Plus, Mazda is developing technology that keeps them out of the Lithium game. It does not matter how you stack the deck; there is not enough Lithium to provide batteries for current vehicle production for more than a decade. What happens to the profits of those car companies who invested heavily into hybrid technology that uses Lithium? The expectation is that those companies may have to pay to reinvent the wheel at some point in the near future. Right now, the automobile industry is driven by consumer demand, and consumers want hybrids. Of course, we he have to always consider the possibility of discovering new lithium reserves. 

The Mazda EV

                                                            2012 mazda demio ev

Back in 2012, Mazda created the Demio EV, which was offered to corporate customers in Japan. The Demio offers a 200 mile range and still features performance, but it has not seen mass production outside of Japan. However, Mazda leaked plans in 2011 to launch an EV into the US market by 2018, according to AutoBlog. Mazda was also to begin leasing the Demio or the Mazda 2 EV in the US back in 2012, but that was a venture that did not occur. As we enter 2015, Mazda still does not have an EV for the US market. 2018 is still ways off and the incentive is California's ongoing push for clean air. California drivers purchase upwards of 10 percent of the US Car supply per year. California is pushing hard for zero emission vehicles, and that for now means mainly EVs. As the guidelines tighten, Mazda will have to supply an EV for California drivers. It remains likely that the EV Mazda sends is a version of the Mazda 2. Mazda, however is fiercely determined to produce a zero emission vehicle without resorting to an EV. To that end, their green technologies are making progress!

SkyActiv- D

Mazda has embraced another facet outside of hybrid technology that is their SkyActiv-G and SkyActiv-D engines. The G stands for gasoline, and the D stands for Diesel. The goal is to produce a vehicle that complies with the strictest of global regulations for vehicle emissions. The technologies feature a low compression gasoline/diesel engine paired with a small turbo and a larger turbo. The two turbochargers work at different RPMs giving the vehicle low-end power and high-end power while decreasing emissions dramatically. The SkyActiv-D was slated for release for the US market in early 2014, but has been pushed back to 2015 or 2016. Mazda's reason is that they want the vehicle to perform to Mazda's drivability standards. The SkyActiv-G engine is offered in the 2015 Mazda CX5 Crossover in both the 2.0L and 2.5L capacity. This is further proof that Mazda is seriously avoiding becoming a gasoline-hybrid manufacturer. The SkyActiv-D engine is designed to offer hybrid mileage, hybrid emission standards, and still be powerful and fun to drive. 

Hydrogen Fuel Cell

                  Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid (Limited availability in japan)

Mazda seems to be in a dilemma over the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. They are exploring the need for more compact engine than the current SkyActiv engines to fit their smaller M2 type vehicles. That may mean the resurrection of the rotary engine, which has been abandoned due to low fuel standards. It may also mean that hydrogen fuel cell engines can be paired with a small rotary engine to give vehicles such as the M2 more range. This concept opens the door for Mazda to offer a gas hybrid vehicle sooner rather than later. The problem for Mazda with hydrogen fuel cells is the need for lithium batteries. They place the auto giant back into the realm of dealing with another limited resource. 

As it stands now, Mazda is competing well without having a true gas-electric hybrid. Changing regulations may force them to comply, but their current technology of super fuel efficient gas and diesel vehicles may also mean that they meet or exceed global fuel efficiency and emission standards. While hybrid cars are the rage, the limited supply of Lithium means that a total conversion within the global automotive industry may not be possible as a long-term solution. Is Mazda's obsession with avoiding hybrid technology going to be a saving grace? It is difficult to say at this stage, though the prospect looks good for Mazda. The wild card is the rate at which technology advances. Everyone is in the race to win, and that is an excellent prospect for the environment, consumers, Mazda and most automobile manufacturers.

How do you see the Lithium debate impacting the future of EV/Hybrid technologies and vehicles?