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"Unless you have renewable energy, EVs don't make sense": Is Mazda Australia falling behind the electric car curve as hybrid and EV sales pick up?

Mazda Australia has no electric cars on sale, but largely escapes the criticism directed at Toyota for the very same.

While Toyota remains a target for those pushing for automotive electrification, its Japanese contemporary Mazda is a much, much smaller fish in the global sea.

But here in Australia, while Toyota dominates the sales charts, Mazda Australia is a strong second place. While this is good for Mazda in terms of having an unusually strong share compared to other markets, it means there’s a bigger spotlight on the brand here than elsewhere.

So, when it comes to asking where brands are on the shift to electrification, Mazda in Australia is in a similar boat to Toyota - albeit without the impressive numbers of hybrid vehicle sales to lean on. The brand had one electric car, the MX-30 SUV, in Australia for a short period of time. Now, nothing short of some plug-in hybrids and a few models available with a 48-volt style ‘mild-hybrid’.

During an interview conducted with Mazda Australia Managing Director Vinesh Bhindi and Marketing Director Alastair Doak upon the global reveal of the Mazda CX-70 SUV, Bhindi told CarsGuide that government policy needed to be what directs a change in investment in electrification. 

“There's a lot of elements to it. This transition to electrification… We are waiting with bated breath on our government to release its next phase of the fuel efficiency standard, which is a pathway to EV,” said Bhindi.

“I think the industry was expecting something late last year. Consumers were expecting something last year, but hopefully it’s this year and hopefully it's something that's ambitious but achievable.”

Since the interview, the federal government confirmed it is in the final stages of developing a New Vehicle Efficiency Standard (NVES), which will take effect from January 1, 2025.

Mazda briefly introduced the MX-30 SUV, marking its electrifying debut in Australia's automotive scene. (Image: Tom White) Mazda briefly introduced the MX-30 SUV, marking its electrifying debut in Australia's automotive scene. (Image: Tom White)

Automotive industry body the FCAI has called the government’s preferred model for the NVES “very ambitious”, adding that it “will be a challenge to see if they are achievable taking into account the total cost of ownership”, in the words of FCAI Chief Executive Tony Weber.

In short, the NVES will penalise carmakers for selling models that don’t meet a certain efficiency target, and credit them for cars sold that meet or better the threshold.

Since the announcement, CarsGuide sought an update from Mazda Australia, and was told by a spokesperson that the brand “supports the recent FCAI statement which encourages the Federal Government to ensure the affordability and mobility needs of consumers are considered throughout the consultation period for a proposed NVES”.

Back to Mazda boss Vinesh Bhindi, who hopes an ambitious target will push a “real level of acceleration investment… in Australia”.

Mazda Australia's Managing Director, Vinesh Bhindi, emphasised to CarsGuide that government policy should drive investment shifts towards electrification. (Image: Tom White) Mazda Australia's Managing Director, Vinesh Bhindi, emphasised to CarsGuide that government policy should drive investment shifts towards electrification. (Image: Tom White)

“Not just by OEMs but also by private equity on infrastructures and charging. And our environment minister has been talking about renewable energy attracting private equity funds for that to accelerate. 

“Because unless you have new renewable energy, EV doesn't make sense. What's the point if you are still pumping carbon from different channels?

“So the exciting thing is I think something will happen in Australia, and then we’ll start to accelerate and catch up with some of the other countries. So that's one side of it.”

For reference, research has shown that even when an electric car is run from grid power sourced from fossil fuels, the overall emissions of the car are less than that of an equivalent internal combustion engine car

In 2023, 87,217 electric passenger vehicles were sold amongst the 1,165,008 total passenger vehicles sold - or 7.49 per cent. (Image: Tom White) In 2023, 87,217 electric passenger vehicles were sold amongst the 1,165,008 total passenger vehicles sold - or 7.49 per cent. (Image: Tom White)

Consider also that the power from the grid doesn’t require a tanker to transport oil across the ocean, nor a truck to bring the refined product to a fuel station.

A report by the US Department of Energy states EVs convert more than 77 per cent of grid energy to power at the wheels, while petrol vehicles convert between 12 to 30 per cent of energy stored in petrol to energy at the wheels.

But Mazda Australia isn’t worried about looking slow or falling behind.

“When I bring it down to where Mazda is,” says Bhindi, “Mazda has released a three-phase strategy. 

Mazda's future shines with plug-in hybrid tech, powering the CX-60 SUV. (Image: Glen Sullivan) Mazda's future shines with plug-in hybrid tech, powering the CX-60 SUV. (Image: Glen Sullivan)

“And by the end of this decade [will be] releasing multiple technologies, solutions, including current plug-in hybrids, mild hybrids, hybrid technology, and then battery EV technology and products associated with that. So it's public knowledge. 

“And no, I'm not concerned that Mazda may be seen as being behind because when you look at the market size in Australia… only seven per cent, ish… seven to eight per cent is battery EV in Australia. Of that seven to eight percent, a good chunk of it is Tesla." 

Bhindi knows his market figures. In 2023, 87,217 electric passenger vehicles were sold amongst the 1,165,008 total passenger vehicles sold - or 7.49 per cent. But that figure should rise again this year - in 2022, it was just 3.23 per cent.

“And yes, there'll be more products from many OEMs including Mazda, that will be available,” said Bhindi.

The PHEV CX-60 SUV represents about half of CX-60s sold in Australia so far. (Image: Glen Sullivan) The PHEV CX-60 SUV represents about half of CX-60s sold in Australia so far. (Image: Glen Sullivan)

“You know, by the end of this decade, the landscape will look very different. It’s exciting times.”

In the near future, Mazda’s best hope is its new plug-in hybrid tech, available in the CX-60 SUV where Marketing Director Alastair Doak says it represents about half of CX-60s sold in Australia so far.

“We have mega cities like Melbourne and Sydney, but then we also have lots of people who drive longer kilometres than you would in Europe for example,” Doak said. 

“So that kind of makes sense where you can use pure EV in the city, and then go for a long drive on the weekend without having to worry about [charging] infrastructure. 

“That makes a lot of sense… I think we've seen that in the sales numbers.”