Toyota working with Mazda on future product could be the best thing to happen to electric cars since, well, ever. The two brands, working with typical Japanese respect for one another despite Toyota being worth over 20 times the value of ickle Mazda, could create something that will revolutionise the way consumers see EVs.
Right now, there are two types of full-electric car: Teslas, and ones you don’t want. Sure, a Nissan Leaf might make sense for someone who drives 15 miles a day through the centre of Crewe and back, but unless you’re a bit weird, non-Tesla electric cars just aren’t desirable. You make that purchase with your head, or your crippling eco-consciousness, and your heart has literally nothing to do with it.
Teslas, on the other hand, are very desirable. They look good, even if we’re still adjusting to the lack of a front grille, they work well and they come packed with advanced technology and enough battery capacity to put range anxiety aside. The major problem is that these are expensive cars. Even the Model 3 won’t be much less than £35,000 in the UK in its basic trim; it might top £40,000 with the larger battery.
So neither Tesla, nor the also-rans who haven’t quite got the formula right yet, are solving the riddle of how to get more people into electric cars, if, as it appears, that’s ultimately what has to happen. A Toyota-Mazda partnership could be the answer.
Toyota brings engineering excellence, a renewed mechanical diligence and decades of experience with batteries and hybrid drivetrains. It brings arguably by far the deepest understanding of how to maximise the efficiency of a drivetrain of any manufacturer out there, having worked across petrol, diesel, hybrid and hydrogen in recent times. It also brings something else: foresight.
Toyota was the only brand to see the need for hybrids way ahead of time. When European manufacturers (and media) were laughing at the funny little Prius, swearing that it was a waste of time and money and that diesel was the way to go, Toyota had already engineered a drivetrain layout that could cope with any future eventuality, allowing it to keep it and refine it, generation by generation. With this foresight in mind, don’t you think there’s a reason why Toyota hasn’t built a full-electric car? It certainly could have, if it wanted to, but Toyota sees the future more clearly than other brands. It has waited until the current, inadequate technology gets replaced by something else, and that something is coming from Toyota itself.
Solid-state batteries are a known technology, but using them to power cars has thus far been out of reach. Toyota is well on the way to fixing that, with its first production solid-state electric car batteries scheduled for 2022. Recharge times will be cut to minutes, battery cell life expectancies will rise and there will easily be enough power on board to skip past 200 miles per charge. Toyota has spent the last 25 years developing the right thing at the right time. They are enviably clever.
As for Mazda, it brings a couple of things Toyota has been desperately lacking recently. The first is style. Toyota’s latest mainstream cars like the Prius, Auris, Avensis and Rav4 have all been a bit of a dog’s dinner in the looks department. The Yaris, C-HR and GT86 (especially the GT86) are exceptions, but in that middle bit of the market the styling direction quickly needs to change. Pick any Mazda and you have a fundamentally good-looking car, as long as you spec it with big wheels.
Mazda also brings an attention to lightness that isn’t really on the agenda at Toyota. Mazda’s SkyActiv programme has seen massive gains in efficiency over the last five years or so, with advanced new construction techniques and a considered approach to shaving grams wherever possible without affecting the overall sense of quality. For another thing, Mazda’s interiors are, on the whole, a lot better-looking and a lot more European-feeling than Toyota’s.
We know that both brands can build cars that are awesome to drive. The GT86 and the ND MX-5 are two of our favourite new cars, for their light-footed and pure approach to driving fun. The two brands could surely make an EV that was fun. There’s huge synergy here; both brands complement each other perfectly. While we’d rather keep hold of petrol cars for as long as we can, Toyota and Mazda, working together, could create a new generation of brilliant electric ones that people can afford, and that they really want.