Ask Nathan: Audi EV Pickup, Bad Mazda Commercials and Are PHEVs a Scam?

Images: Audi AG

In this week’s Ask Nathan:

  • Would you buy an Audi EV Pickup?
  • Mazda’s bad commercials result in bad sales?
  • PHEV (Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles) are a scam?

The first question comes from a viewer who saw our video and written review of the Audi EV pickup, better known as the Activesphere concept.

Q: (Via: TFL crew, I just saw your Audi EV pickup (Activesphere) video and I had a question.

Please be honest about whether or not you or Andre would buy an Audi EV pickup. Or whatever this thing is. I know that Nathan likes small pickups but this might be even too small for him. I know the Audi EV pickup is nothing but a concept. Right. Maybe something like the design of the rear hatch could find its way to production for another car company.


  • Anonymous

A: Yes, I would love to sample something like this Audi EV pickup (Activesphere), but…

Like the other vehicles in their Sphere concept series, the Activesphere is a rolling showcase of Audi-tech. Many of the components, gizmos and innovations you see are in their early experimental phase. It will be a long time before we see this tech put to practical use.

The Audi Activesphere Concept is a combination of an electrified sport-sedan/SUV that converts into a pickup – sort of. (On paper) It’s fast, off-road capable-ish, and it’s super utilitarian. Power goes from a (approximate) 100 kWh battery to two motors, powering all four wheels. It can lift and lower itself a bit, and it sure looks off-roady, but it’s no Wrangler.

Check out the video above for additional information.

I love some of these ideas, and I agree that the rear hatch system “Sportsback” could be expanded upon for other vehicles. That type of utility may be a benefit to certain consumers. Still, this vehicles is very much not ready for primetime, and something like this will not be in production anytime soon.

– N

The next question comes from a reader who finds Mazda’s lack of sales success may come from their commercials.

Image: Mazda

Q: (Via: NathanAdlen@Twitter) I have owned & loved Mazdas for over 25 years.

I know you’re a Mazda man too. Tell me then, why has Mazda always gone for the most boring, bland commercials ever? The voices are monotone, the music boring and the images are noting new. It’s like they are trying to find ways for viewers to want to change the channel or click past the advert. Mazda needs to hire a new PR company, and so does Subaru, but for different reasons.

Maybe this is one of the reasons for their slow sales? This is a top tier car company and they still seem to be so far behind others who build junk cars. It just isn’t fair! I think their poorly thought out commercials are one of the reasons.

By the way Nathan, I absolutely love my 2021 Mazda CX-5 Signature! It is the whole package. You’re right about it being underrated and underappreciated. Thanks for being honest and fun to watch!

– CoffeeTrip72

A: You know what? I agree – Mazda commercials are as boring as insurance infomercials.

This is especially true for the MX-5 Miata commercials I’ve recently seen. Terribly boring.

With that being said, I don’t think that’s the main reason for Mazda’s low sales numbers. The main culprit seems to be Mazda’s lack of dealerships and service centers throughout the United States. It’s interesting: Denver has more than many cities (three), but many urban and suburban areas lack coverage.

Perhaps additional dealerships and better advertisements would help?

– N

The last comment comes from a YouTube video where a viewer felt hybrids and PHEVs were a “scam.”

Q: (Via YouTube): All hybrids are a scam – Zoltán Kárpát

… he didn’t respond to other comments to the contrary.

A: You’re not the only one who feels that hybrids and PHEVs are illogical.

I’ve heard many argue that, by having a propulsion that uses two systems – it increases complexity. As such, it will be more expensive to maintain, and less reliable. Battery replacement prices are often quoted and republished on various periodicals. Others have said that short EV ranges of PHEVs are silly as it won’t save much (if any) money in the long run. Some feel that the extra weight gain from the electric power system will lead to poor performance, and premature tire wear.

Of course, there’s all the folks who simply dislike these vehicles for what they represent.

I was one of those hybrid haters way back, but time has changed my mind.

Hybrid automobiles have been around for about 25-years now, and the results have proven eye-opening. Automakers like Toyota have proven their hybrids are not only efficient, but extremely reliable over the long run. Battery degradation is an issue, but not as terrible as many have hyped. In fact, many early Toyota Prius still clunk around with their original NiMH batteries. Degradation is real, but it’s improving every year.

I sat down with an engineer a few years back, and he explained that the internal combustion engine in many hybrids actually leads a less hectic life than a non-hybrid. Less stress over its lifetime, and whatnot. He suggested that is especially true in PHEVs as the gas engine stressed even less with the robust electric motor’s aid.

To put a fork in the sentiment about PHEVs being “scams.” I conducted an experiment a few years back. I borrowed a Jeep Wrangler 4xe PHEV for an extended test. Over a working week, I drove my kids to school, went to work, and took care of the errands. Other than the long distance to work (40+ miles each way), I never used the gas engine.

I saved a lot of dough at the pump. For some people, a PHEV could make a lot of sense if they live close to their employer, and/or their employer has free charging. It has the potential to save some money, and lower carbon emissions. As such, I disagree that it’s a “scam.”

– N