Mazda has confirmed it will debut its first all-electric model during the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show, but precisely what it has in store is generating plenty of debate.
The automaker has been working with Toyota as part of a growing alliance between the two brands, but it indicates the new model uses technology it developed on its own, in-house. Meanwhile, there are indications that Mazda actually may show two versions, one a pure EV with a relatively modest-size battery-pack, and the other a plug-in hybrid.
The PHEV, in fact, could generate the bigger headlines as it is believed to be using a new version of Mazda’s classic rotary engine as a ranger-extender. That could prove to be the most effective application for the rotary, said one industry observer familiar with the pluses and minuses of the engine that once dominated the Mazda line-up.
Beyond confirming the new vehicle will debut at the Tokyo Motor Show on Oct. 23, Mazda offered just a brief statement about its plans. “A completely new model, the EV will be the third installment in the automaker’s new-generation line-up,” it said. “Developed in accordance with Mazda’s human-centric philosophy and making full use of the benefits of electric drive technology, it offers performance drivers can enjoy effortlessly and whole-heartedly.
Various sources have offered some insight into what Mazda is expected to bring to the biennial Tokyo Motor Show.
By most accounts, the EV will be equipped with a relatively modest-sized battery pack. How small is uncertain, though test mules spotted in Japan, based on the automaker’s small CX-30 crossover, only crammed in about 36 kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion batteries. That’s about 50% larger than the pack in the original Nissan Leaf EV and would likely deliver something under 150 miles range using the EPA test cycle.
The CX-30 mule was known to be powered by a single electric motor making 142 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.
If sources are correct, buyers would have the choice of extending that range with a plug-in model.
Technically, what Mazda appears to offering here is more accurately described as an extended-range electric vehicle, much like the Chevrolet Volt and the BMW i3RE. The internal combustion in EREVs normally provide no direct torque to the driven wheels, instead servin solely as onboard generators. They either can recharge a vehicle’s batteries or take over when they’re discharged. Under aggressive acceleration, meanwhile, the generator also can supplement power coming from the battery.
“They got a patent three years ago for a range-extender using a Wankel (rotary) engine,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst with Navigant Research, adding that it’s a good application because those engines are “compact and power-dense.”
In fact, Mazda has been toying with the idea of using a rotary since 2013, when it revealed the concept Mazda 2 RE prototype. It used a 0.33-liter Wankel that could add another 111 miles of range.
There’s some debate, among sources, as to the platform the new Mazda EV will use. Some believe it to b
e a completely new architecture while others indicate it is basically a modified version of the latest Mazda2 platform.
What is clear is that Mazda decided to work entirely in-house on the new EV – which is set to go on sale in Japan next year.
That might surprise some folks who anticipated it would make use of some of the battery-based technology Mazda now can share with Toyota. The two formed an alliance several years ago that, among other things will have them jointly operate a new assembly plant they are building in Alabama. They also plan to work on future EV projects though, considering the timing of their teaming up, are still a few years away from coming to market.
One of the other questions Mazda likely won’t answer until the Tokyo Motor Show is just where it plans to market the new model. While a home market application is certain, it could be problematic trying to offer a limited-range EV in other key markets, such as Europe, and especially in the U.S., where anything getting less than 200 miles has fallen off the sales charts lately.