Mazda To Let Customers Decide if Electric or Hybrid Power Is Best: But is it a Fair Test?

What type of cars do consumer really want? How should those vehicles be fueled — and what price are they willing to pay for them?

It’s a common question facing automakers as they try to second-guess the automotive market. If we’re feeling cynical, it’s also one that’s all-too-often answered with a combination of poorly-executed market research and the predilections and preconceptions of auto-industry executives. Combined, these decisions are what influence not only what type of vehicles are sold, but how they are fueled.

Mazda is letting consumers pick which car is best. But is it a fair test?

Mazda is letting consumers pick which car is best. But is it a fair test?

Or to put it another way, that very decision-making process can hold back the development of partial or zero emission cars based on the argument that consumers can’t or won’t make the switch away from gasoline.

Japanese automaker Mazda is less presumptuous. As AutoExpress reports, it’s executing a real-world market test in which it will pit hybrid and electric vehicle technology against one another to determine which technology it should pursue in the future. But while we’re pleased to see an automaker put both hybrid and electric cars head to head in the marketplace, we’ve doubts over how fair Mazda’s pilot project will be.

According to the British publication, Mazda is currently pitting an all-electric version of its Mazda 2 supermini against a Mazda 3 compact hatchback fitted with its SkyActiv Hybrid drivetrain in its home market of Japan to see which car proves the most popular with customers.

The winner, it says, will influence Mazda’s future drivetrain decisions, and could see the company move away from Internal combustion vehicles in favor of all-electric ones.

So far, so good. But while we’re sure many readers will be delighted to see that Mazda is entertaining the idea of building more all-electric cars, we’re not so sure the test is going to be fair.

The Mazda Demio EV is based on the Mazda 2 -- but is smaller and more expensive than the hybrid Mazda 3

The Mazda Demio EV is based on the Mazda 2 — but is smaller and more expensive than the hybrid Mazda 3

For a start, the all-electric Mazda 2 — known in Japan as the Mazda Demio EV — is a smaller car than the hybrid Mazda 3 it is being tested against. While it is fitted with a 20 kilowatt-hour battery pack and 75 kilowatt electric motor that are good for around 200 kilometers (124 miles) of driving on the overly-optimistic JC08 Japanese test cycle, it’s one full class size smaller than the Mazda 3.

At this point, we’ll concede that size is less important in the Japanese market than it is in Europe or North America. Indeed, small cars are extremely popular in Japan thanks to the Kei Jidosha regulations which grant owners of compliant Kei-class cars freedom to park on the street at night without first requiring them to obtain an official permit to do so.

But at the same sort of size as the current-generation Ford Fiesta, the Mazda Demio is far to large to benefit from Kei Jidosha privileges.

Second to size comes price. While we’ve yet to find any current pricing information on the Mazda Demio EV on Mazda’s language website, a press-release from three years ago announcing the introduction of a small fleet of 100 Mazda Demio EVs to a test-fleet in Japan listed the price at more than ¥3.5 million. Meanwhile, production-versions of the Madza 3 with hybrid drivetrain — known in Japan as the Mazda Axela — are available for as little as ¥2.3 million.

That’s a price difference of some ¥1.2 million — or nearly $10,000.

The difference in price isn’t exactly a new one to those familiar with the sticker shock between gasoline and hybrid cars and then between hybrid and electric cars. And in the case of the Mazda Demio and Mazda Axela, that sticker shock is easily explained: the former is essentially a low-volume electric vehicle based on a conversion of an existing gasoline model. The latter is a production hybrid based on Toyota’s now legendary hybrid drivetrain system.

Only Mitsubishi has managed a like for like comparison at the dealer forecourt.

Only Mitsubishi has managed a like for like comparison at the dealer forecourt.

Nevertheless, these points bring us to a painful, if realistic conclusion. Until Mazda — or any other automaker — offers an electric, hybrid, and gasoline version of the same car at a similar or identical price with equally-appointed interiors, the test won’t be a fair one.

So far, only one automaker is even coming close: Mitsubishi. Over in Europe, it’s possible to buy a plug-in hybrid variant of the mid-size Outlander SUV for no additional premium over a similarly-priced diesel model.

The Outlander PHEV consequentially, is proving itself to be a roaring success. As scholars of old might say, Q.E.D.

Is Mazda’s test fair? Will consumers opt for convenience or cost? And which cars would you like to see offered in both plug-in and gasoline variants?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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