Mazda exec presents bold ‘let’s pretend the EV future will never come’ strategy

Mazda exec Robert Davis doubled down on Mazda’s anti-EV stance at a Michigan trade group convention this week, Automotive News reported.  In a seminar, Davis stated that the “impending death of the internal combustion engine is overrated,” said governments shouldn’t “mandate” EVs, and said EV incentives should be eliminated.

Mazda currently makes no electric or plug-in hybrid models, though claimed last year that they were planning to offer EVs in 2019 primarily to meet ZEV regulations.

Robert Davis was a US senior VP of operations for Mazda until being reassigned to a smaller role earlier this year.

Davis also mentioned Mazda’s opposition to the concept of “compliance cars,” a limited-production model sold only in certain markets to fulfill zero emission vehicle mandates in those markets, to allow an automaker to continue selling much higher volumes of inefficient vehicles.  He stated that Mazda’s aim is to make every car as efficient as it can be.

ICE engines used in cars have a total thermal efficiency (i.e. how much of gasoline’s energy is turned into motion, rather than wasted as heat/noise) of about 20-30%.  Electric motors have efficiency of around 90% and above.

Both lose efficiency if you take into account the “long tailpipe” of gasoline drilling/shipping/refining or electricity generation/transmission – about another third of the energy is lost in the case of gasoline, and with electricity the number varies greatly.  Overall, though, EVs are much more efficient than gasoline powered vehicles, no matter what energy source is used to power them.

Electrek’s Take

Davis’ comments read like a summary of Koch misinformation campaign talking points.  If you’ll indulge me in a rather lengthy rant about all things EV, I will take them down one by one here.


First, Davis stated that the federal $7,500 tax credit and all EV mandates should be eliminated – letting the government keep the $7,500 and letting industry find the best way to meet the clean air standard – however those standards are defined (“Make it CO2, make it grams per mile, fuel economy – whatever feels best”).

This position doesn’t jibe with his own company’s opinion of those standards.  Just last month, industry groups which represent nearly all automakers (including Mazda, as a member of JAMA) lobbied China to stop their EV mandate, and recently Mazda also lobbied the US government to block the EPA’s future fuel emissions standards.

Beyond that, it’s also quite strange that an industry executive would speak out against tax incentives available to his industry.  Such is Mazda’s opposition to EVs, apparently.

But that brings up another point – what if we did eliminate all incentives?  Gasoline-powered cars benefit from a tremendous subsidy in the form of unpriced externalities.  An IMF report puts the worldwide total dirty energy subsidy (of which gasoline is a significant part) at $5.3 trillion per year.  Another study suggests that the social costs (health, global warming, other destruction) of burning gasoline is $3.80 per gallon of gas, and $4.80 per gallon of diesel.

If we assume that the average car lasts 150,000 miles and compare that with Mazda’s average efficiency of 29.6mpg, then the average Mazda sold today will benefit from $19,254 in “incentives” by not having to pay the cost of the pollution they put out ($3.80 x (150k/29.6)).  This is much more than the $7,500 credit enjoyed by electric vehicles.  Which is why Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated many times that he’d like to see all incentives eliminated, both for EVs and ICE vehicles, and see them compete on a level playing field – because, currently, the incentives are arranged to benefit ICE, not EV.


Davis also mentions one of the favorite talking points of the anti-environment crowd, which is to play upon the public’s ignorance of battery technology to claim that lithium ion batteries are dangerous to dispose of.  The reason this fear-mongering works for the public is because the batteries people are used to, the ones in gasoline-powered vehicles, including every single Mazda, are environmental disasters.  Lead acid batteries are extremely dangerous if not disposed of properly.  Thankfully, there are extremely effective programs which have managed to mitigate this, with 99%(!) of used auto batteries being turned in for recycling (this is why you get a discount on a new battery when you turn in the old one).  It’s fortunate these programs exist, because most EVs do still use lead acid batteries, with notable exception of the Tesla Roadster.

Lithium-ion batteries, however, are not nearly as hazardous.  Unlike lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries are generally not considered hazardous waste and most of the elements within are considered safe for incinerators and landfills.  Further, if a lead acid recycling program can reach 99% effectiveness with a mere ~$10 discount for bringing in the old battery core, one would think that a much larger, much more expensive lithium ion battery recycling program, with a much larger discount for turning in used batteries (e.g. Nissan’s battery replacement program for the Leaf which gives a $1,000 discount for turning in your old battery), would be able to reach similar effectiveness.

Currently there are few programs of the sort, because there aren’t many used EV batteries out there, since most EVs are relatively new.  But Tesla’s gigafactory plans to incorporate battery recycling, and this should be easy for them to do since they will be able to assemble and disassemble the batteries with the exact same machines.  This would be more efficient than a recycling facility built to recycle all different kinds of batteries – which is why Davis’ point that EV batteries can’t be recycled as easily as cellphone batteries doesn’t make any sense at all, particularly considering that Tesla uses a standard battery cell size which is used elsewhere in the industry.


The third point I’d like to take down is the “long tailpipe” argument referred to above, which Davis brings up by saying EVs don’t have “zero emissions” but “remote emissions, or displaced emissions.”

Polluting industry often likes to pretend that EVs pollute just as much as gas cars, just that that happens at a smokestack instead of a tailpipe.  While it is true that there are obviously still emissions evolved in many types of electricity production, EVs are still more efficient no matter where the electricity to power them comes from.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has produced several reports about this, and has updated them a few times to show that EVs are only getting cleaner as time goes on.  In another study, UCS showed that gasoline-powered cars have a “long tailpipe” of their own, with gasoline production resulting in another ~26% drop in efficiency (see figure 5).  So Mazda’s ICE vehicles have plenty of “remote emissions” of their own.

Of course, all of these emissions can be completely eliminated by putting solar panels on the roof of your house.  Which many companies offer for zero down and a monthly price which is lower than your current electric bill, making it a no brainer especially for those with an EV.  And then there’s the upcoming Tesla solar roof.

Compliance cars

Mazda’s opposition to compliance cars, which Davis brings up in his speech, makes sense.  Yes, it would be better to produce a lot of efficient cars instead of lose money on a few hyperefficient cars and keep polluting with many inefficient ones.  And the current paradigm leaves companies which do focus on efficient cars, such as Tesla, gaining much less benefit from companies which focus on inefficient cars.  Despite Mazda being called the “most efficient” legacy manufacturer in America, I actually include Mazda in the latter category of inefficient automakers.  According to federal CAFE standards, Mazda’s average economy for their fleet of passenger cars is 41.9, compared to Tesla’s at 314.4.

Mazda might claim that it is easy for Tesla to reach that number because they only sell a few vehicles anyway, but Mazda’s US sales number around 300k (though their sales dropped last year under Davis’ tenure despite US auto sales increasing).  Tesla’s sales will likely be at around the same level in the next year or two, but it is unlikely that their CAFE number will drop to Mazda’s level.

And this comparison to Tesla belays the other excuse which is often made for Mazda, which is that it is a relatively small manufacturer and thus cannot devote sufficient resources to advanced powertrains.  Tesla is also a small manufacturer, smaller than Mazda at the moment in terms of sales, and yet they seem to have had no problem coming up with advanced powertrains and still making cars profitably.  So, pick one excuse or the other, Mazda, neither of them really work.

Davis also references Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionnne’s comments about losing money on the Fiat 500e, complaining that another reason Mazda doesn’t make compliance cars is because it’s nonsensical to force manufacturers to lose money on some models just to meet a regulatory hurdle.  That would be silly, but once again we have a comparison to Tesla, 100% of whose cars comply with ZEV regulations and yet they manage to have one of the highest automotive gross margins in the industry.


So, Robert Davis, yes, we do “all breathe the same air, and it makes the most sense for every car to be as efficient as it can be.”  So stop being ridiculous and start making EVs.  And that goes for the rest of the industry as well – Davis’ position here is not atypical of the industry, and many other executives suffer from the same level of obstinance in attempting to justify the continuation of “business as usual.”  But time marches forward and progress will happen whether they are onboard or not.  Mazda dooms themselves to irrelevance if they continue doubling-down on the internal combustion engine.  It may not be reflected in the next quarterly report (though, in Mazda’s case, with falling sales numbers in a growing industry, maybe it will), but the trend will continue even if industry executives like Davis keep their heads comfortably in the sand while sales continue to fall.

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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