7th September 2017

BMW and Mazda reveal quite different mobility and sustainability visions

With governments and vehicle manufacturers under considerable public pressure to improve air quality throughout the world, mitigate current sentiments surrounding diesel and to promote greener and more universally accessible mobility solutions, it’s fascinating to see what announcements are made on a regular basis.

Sustainability and dynamics are harmonious

BMW’s Chairman Harald Krüger1 is keen to cement in consumers’ and fleets’ minds that sustainable mobility is just as important to his firm as its historic core values of ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’ and emotion. “With BMW i, we were the first German manufacturer to make a clear commitment to electric mobility”, he explains, before boldly elaborating: “We are driving the transition as hard and as fast as possible and have launched more electrified vehicles than any of our established competitors.” We assume the unestablished rival in mind is Tesla.

Diesel remains Germany’s preference

Speaking of BMW’s vision for motoring’s near future, Krüger stated resolutely: “Future mobility will definitely depend on state-of-the-art diesels as well, because environmental protection has several dimensions: one of them is the fight against climate change.”

“Diesels are just as clean or even cleaner than petrol engines” and “three of the four major diesel pollutant issues have been resolved and no longer have any adverse effect on air quality”, the marque’s press release went on to state, urging others to engage in “objective discussions based on facts and scientific evidence”.

On 2nd August in Berlin, representatives from across Germany’s automotive industry and government came together for talks at the National Diesel Forum2 and the first major step agreed is for software to be retrofitted to millions of older diesel cars. The Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia may have shocked various people and organisations when he exclaimed “We want to save diesel as it is the most CO2-friendly vehicle among combustion engine cars” – and BMW says it supports the Forum’s comprehensive measures.

Essentially, BMW’s primary move is to offer a diesel scrappage scheme to drivers of Euro 4 and 5 diesel cars in a bid to upgrade as many consumers and fleets as possible to Euro 6, which the firm still deems to be the best and most viable fuel of today, confident that its exhaust treatment technologies are very different from others available in the market.

BMW’s greener plans

As for alternatively-fuelled vehicles (AFV) fitting into BMW’s short term plans, they hope the plug-in hybrid MINI Countryman will contribute to group sales busting the 100,000 units ceiling later this year. A Roadster iteration of the i8 will be introduced in 2018, followed by a battery-powered MINI in 2019 and a battery-powered X3 in 2010, which we presume they mean will be pure EVs. BMW is also keen to ensure that its flexible architectures and manufacturing facilities will enable it to make short-notice decisions on which powertrains to introduce to which models. We like the sound of that, hopefully meaning their future cars’ powertrains will be shaped by public and environmental forces.

Unusual name but a very likeable strategy

Hot on the heels of BMW’s plans, Japanese car-maker Mazda unveiled its ‘Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030’ vision for technology development, immediately demonstrating its confidence in thinking and speaking longer-term. Just like BMW, Mazda is proud of producing sustainable vehicles that it says provide great driving pleasure, which it will seek to harness in order to tackle climate and social issues3, helping bring about a “beautiful earth and enrich people’s lives.”

Mazda would like to see “well-to-wheel” CO2 emissions across its corporate fleet halved in comparison with 2010 levels by 2030, keen to work in a way that benefits the real world. It plans to introduce electric and hybrid vehicles in key global territories starting in 2019 and approach emissions technology with vehicles’ entire life cycles in mind.

We agree with Mazda’s view that the internal combustion engine will continue to “help power the majority of cars worldwide for many years to come”, and it’s refreshing that their Japanese engineers aren’t content to plod on with Euro 6 diesel standards and are unafraid to try radical new approaches. 

A new best-of-both engine

Mazda’s SKYACTIV-X next-generation engine currently being titivated certainly raises a few positive eyebrows as it looks to combine the advantages of petrol and diesel engines to achieve a marriage of outstanding power, acceleration and environmental performance. This exciting new engine will incorporate a supercharger along with Mazda’s proprietary combustion method called Spark Controlled Compression that will enable a seamless transition between compression and spark ignition, basically helping the engine to operate with remarkable efficiency. In fact, they reckon the efficiency of their SKYACTIV petrol engines will increase by upto 30%, which is not to be sniffed at, matching or even surpassing the brand’s diesel units.

Safety-conscious car design

As a group that places road safety at the core of our products and services, we were very interested to discover Mazda’s intentions to work towards eliminating traffic accidents entirely, echoing the aims of others such as Volvo. Mazda will increasingly focus on enhancing its cars’ driving positions, pedal layouts, other ergonomics plus window and mirror visibility, which all contribute towards safer driving.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are already becoming standard in Japan and Mazda will strive to incorporate its i-ACTIVESENSE systems in as many of its models as possible from now on. When it comes to driverless cars, Mazda seems to have its proverbial head screwed on, referring in its press release to “human-centred Co-Pilot”, a concept that will be more purposefully tested from 2020 with the aim that it will be standard-fit five years later, rather than any ambiguity resulting in consumers envisaging actual “driverless” being sold to them any time soon.

Ambitious but well-intentioned

Mobility solutions are at the forefront of Mazda’s minds, too. Connected technologies have been identified as the bedrock of a new business model that will enable car owners to support the mobility needs of people in sparsely populated areas or those who grapple with various constraints hampering their freedom. It’s all interesting and encouraging stuff, although the world’s mental health issues probably won’t be alleviated much in reality through Mazda’s ‘Jinba-ittai’ philosophy that aims to make driving a mentally and physically revitalising experience, or indeed through their KODO-inspired cars being styled as works of art to enrich the surroundings of all onlookers. Full marks for at least trying, though.

We eagerly await news from other car manufacturers to get a flavour of how they see their products and indeed general mobility, the environment and society progressing in the near and more distant futures.