A month after Fiat-Chrysler announced America’s first plug-in hybrid minivan, long-time minivan leader Honda announced an Odyssey hybrid too – for its home market.
Honda’s announcement this week is that today dealers across Japan will begin offering its Odyssey with a version of the Accord Hybrid’s powertrain alongside conventionally powered Odysseys. The new gas-electric variant comes along with a refresh for the people mover last revised for 2013.
This is Honda’s first minivan with what it calls its Sport Hybrid i-MMD system. It features a 2.0-liter four plus dual motors and it uniquely lacks a traditional transmission, instead using the direct drive motors as a virtual CVT. The revised system pioneered on the Accord, improves its motor design making it 23-percent smaller and lighter than in previous versions of this hybrid system, yet maintains high torque and output figures, says the automaker.
This Japanese-market Odyssey fits 7-8 occupants, is dimensionally a bit smaller than U.S. models, but otherwise a full-on minivan as Americans have become accustomed to. In the U.S., six-cylinder minivans such as the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna get 21-22 mpg combined, and this is about as good as we get, but reserved for the Japanese market are hybrids including now this Honda which might get mileage in the 30s, possibly even low 40s.
Actual EPA fuel economy for Honda’s system would be tough to guess with any precision, but on the generous JC08 cycle, Honda says it gets 26.0 km/L, or the equivalent of 61 mpg. The JC08 also attributes to the 2013-2015 Odyssey with 2.4-liter i-VTEC a figure of 14.0 km/L, or the equivalent of 33 mpg.
These four-cylinder minivans fit a more frugal formula even in conventional iterations for Japan, and the U.S. is using engines with 50-percent larger displacement, in Honda’s (and Toyota’s) case, a 3.5-liter V6 to satisfy perceived American requirements.
The Japanese hybrid Odyssey is actually now in position to vie with Toyota which in Japan offers its Alphard and Estima minivans utilizing Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive.
The story of cars Americans think would do well here – or they just wish were here, period – is nothing new however.
Today’s news angle might only be punctuated by the fact that in the U.S. there are no hybrid minivans for sale. And, of all companies, non-hybrid-producing, last-place-in-EPA-standings Fiat-Chrysler has taken the bold move to be first to market when Honda and Toyota have had such technological prowess for years.
Honda’s Insight was actually the country’s first hybrid in 2000. And, the automaker again wowed the industry with its latest capabilities in 2013 when it revived its Accord Hybrid nameplate with a vehicle that in plug-in guise had higher efficiency on electricity (115 MPGe) than a Chevy Volt. On gas the regular hybrid Accord could muster 47 mpg combined, and a Prius-competitive 50 mpg in the city.
This year the Accord Hybrid was quietly pulled from the market for 2016 in the U.S., Honda and Toyota have been showcasing hydrogen fuel cell technology, but Honda says it will bring the refreshed Accord Hybrid back next model year.
A Honda plug-in hybrid projected to get 40 miles EV range is also in the offing for 2018, but no word has been made of a U.S. hybrid minivan – or truck or crossover or SUV from Honda.
The automaker has said to us in the past it is mulling its options. It is expensive to introduce new technology, and facts about cars like its long-in-the-tooth IMA hybrids which lag Toyota’s Prius tech include Honda’s old hybrid tech has long-since been amortized.
As America is enjoying sub $2 gas, and U.S. hybrid sales are below 2 percent – and as Americans vote with their wallets in favor of larger vehicles – Honda is sitting back.
But emissions and mpg regulations loom, as do competitive offerings such as the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivan projected to get 30 miles EV range, and 28 mpg on gas.
Honda, as does every other automaker knows this, and perhaps when it sees the timing is right, it may consider releasing a model federalized and designed for U.S. buyers who have long been asking for such a product.
Meanwhile the Japanese market is getting a nice new hybrid alternative.