Honda, realizing this electric car thing isn’t a fad, says it will have a plug-in hybrid and a battery electric vehicle on the road in 2012. But that doesn’t mean it’s giving up on hydrogen.
CEO Takanobu Ito (pictured) laid out Honda’s timeline for advanced technology vehicles today, promising to have a demonstration fleet of cars with cords on the road in California by the end of this year and in showrooms by the end of 2012. He also said the nickel metal-hydride battery pack in the Honda Civic Hybrid will be replaced with a lithium-ion pack next year.
No one’s offering any specifics about the car, but Honda says the EV will be a small “commuter car,” which makes us hopeful we’ll see the retro-adorable EV-N concept in showrooms good for 60 kilometers on a liter of gas, which is 141 mpg by our math.
The announcement comes as much of the industry promises to have electric vehicles in showrooms by 2014 and California pushes automakers to embrace the technology.
Although the first-gen Honda Insight was the first hybrid available in the United States when it arrived in December, 1999, Honda has lagged behind Toyota in the market. These days the Prius outsells the Civic Hybrid six to one. Honda also has been lukewarm about battery electrics, opting to focus on hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles like the impressive FCX Clarity.
We'd like to see Honda build the EV-N concept that perfectly updates the N360 of the late 1960s.
But Nissan is rolling out the Leaf electric vehicle later this year and Toyota promises to have a plug-in hybrid Prius next year and an electric RAV4 in 2012. California’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate requires the largest automakers to offer a combined total of 60,000 plug-ins and EVs between 2012 and 2014.
With competitors and regulators forcing its hand, Honda’s decided to go all-in.
“Considering Toyota is set to launch a plug-in hybrid next year, Honda’s 2012 schedule sounds a bit far off,” Kazutaka Oshima, president of Rakuten Investment Management, told Reuters. “This underscores the gap in the level of technology at these automakers. That said, while Toyota has the lead, there really isn’t anyone else who is as advanced as Toyota in this field and Honda appears to be close.”
That’s because Honda’s been working on batteries all along. It was the first automaker to use something other than lead-acid batteries when it introduced the EV Plus in 1997.
“My predecessor didn’t like batteries,” Ito said, according to Bloomberg, referring to former president Takeo Fukui. “But we have been researching them all along. Since I became president, that was accelerated quite a bit.”
That acceleration has led to the development of lithium-ion batteries through Blue Energy, Honda’s joint venture with GS Yuasa. We’ll see the first of those batteries next year in the next-gen Civic Hybrid. They’ll appear in other models thereafter.
Ito has launched a campaign to bring down the cost of hybrids. It started with the utilitarian Insight, continues with the sporty CR-Z and will include the forthcoming Fit Hybrid, which could be the cheapest hybrid ever when it appears later this year.
Company VP Koichi Kondo says hybrids and plug-in hybrids will rise from 6 percent of Honda’s global production to more than 10 percent by 2014. (He didn’t include EVs in the forecast.) That is almost certainly a response to tightening fuel economy and emissions regulations in the United States and Europe.
Despite the announcement, Honda still sees battery electric vehicles as a stopgap. It remains convinced that hydrogen fuel cells are the future. Honda is hardly alone in developing the technology, but it has been among the most vocal in supporting it.
“We feel that it’s the ultimate solution,” Honda spokesman Chris Naughton told CNNMoney, “but the infrastructure is developing more slowly than we had anticipated.”
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