While Honda has had some electrified vehicle proponents wondering what it was up to, the refreshed 2017 Accord Hybrid is only the beginning of a green, electrified vehicle onslaught.
According to Jeff Conrad, general manager of the Honda brand, this is the plan as the Japanese automaker showed journalists its new range-topping 48-mpg hybrid and teased them with talk of future plans.
“This Accord Hybrid is at the forefront for our vision for Honda’s advanced environmental lineup of vehicles,” Conrad said at last week’s press in Napa, Calif. “It’s the first step in our plan to create a true volume sales pillar for electrified vehicles of all kinds: hybrids, plug-ins, battery electrics and fuel cells.”
Honda will be tapping into its nearly two-decade old experience and know-how in hybrid systems as it rolls out the new Accord Hybrid. Honda and its competitors are adopting aggressive green car strategies as tough regulatory hurdles approach in coming years.
While Toyota may be more popularly known for bringing the Prius to the hybrid market in 2000, Honda had actually been slightly ahead in bringing its Insight hybrid to the U.S. market in 1999. Honda’s hybrid offerings, including the Civic Hybrid, CR-Z two-seater, and successive Insights were overshadowed by Toyota’s blitz in the hybrid market with more-effective hybrid tech, superior mpg, and a proliferation of hybrid versions in other Toyota and Lexus models.
Honda had played a distant second fiddle to a market it started over the past decade, not only in powertrain innovation but also design and technology.
“That was a period where Honda went into a lull,” said Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at AutoPacific, to Automotive News. “They lost the spirit of innovation they were known for.”
Honda previously had been able to meet emissions and corporate average fuel economy requirements without the considerable investment needed at the time to deploy the hybrid technology widely. It also would have meant diverting r&d dollars and production capacity away from proven, profitable models, which didn’t make sense to the automaker at the time. Now, with stricter fuel economy standards breathing down the necks of all automakers and advancements in Honda’s hybrid systems, the automaker feels it’s ready for prime time, Conrad said.
The 2017 Accord Hybrid will lead the way with slight changes made to the 2.0-liter gasoline engine and the smaller, lighter hybrid system which in 2014 put the Accord Hybrid at the top of the midsize hybrid sedan segment for fuel economy. The 2017 model now has an EPA rating of 49 mpg city, 47 highway, 48 combined using the U.S. EPA’s newly updated guidelines for testing. The next runner-up is the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid with 47/46/46.
The refreshed Accord Hybrid soon will be followed to market by a trio of electrified Clarity models and the introduction of hybrid or plug-in hybrid iterations of Honda’s core models.
Honda put the new hybrid Accord on sale last month and is bullish on its prospects, targeting at least 30,000 sales a year in the U.S. despite the headwinds of cheap gasoline and consumers’ interest in buying SUVs. That would be a huge leap over the previous Accord Hybrid, which sold 25,030 copies in 2014 and 2015 combined.
Honda blames the previous model’s low numbers on capacity issues at its Marysville, Ohio, plant and trouble getting an adequate supply of batteries from its supplier, Blue Energy Co., a joint venture between Honda and Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa Corp. For the new model, Honda moved all Accord Hybrid production to its Sayama plant in Japan and has corrected battery supply issues, Conrad said.
“We knew that we would have capacity constraints, and we knew that we would have battery constraints,” Conrad said. “But at the time, we weren’t looking to expand that production into really big numbers.”