Honda Executive Questions Policy Support for Electric Cars

John Mendel, Honda’s executive vice president, yesterday called for policy makers to refrain from promoting “the virtues of one technology and demonizing another.” Speaking at the Moving Ahead 2010 conference at Ohio State University, Mendel suggested that government agencies are “laying all their chips on the technology du jour.” Without explicitly pointing fingers at EVs, Mendel made it abundantly clear that he believes support for electric cars and next-generation batteries represent “a rush to select a winner that could lead us in the wrong direction.”

The Department of Energy has invested $1.4 billion in plug-in cars and battery research and development grants, $25 billion in low-interest loans, and has created a federal tax credit up to $7,500 for battery-powered vehicles. Meanwhile, consumer incentives for conventional hybrids have not been renewed, and investment in hydrogen fuel cell technology has been slashed.

“To put the country on the course to a single technology without fully understanding its implications, including whether customers will buy it, will put us behind in achieving our objectives,” Mendel said. The Honda executive believes that government’s role should be to set goals for achieving improvements in air quality, climate change and energy sustainability, and to “leave it to industry to figure out how to get there.”

Slow Adoption of New Technologies

Mendel pointed to the slow rate of adoption of conventional hybrids, which represent less than 3 percent of new car sales, 10 years after Honda introduced the original Honda Insight in December 1999. “If we can’t convince people to move a hybrid, which is fully functioning and is as easy to refuel as an internal combustion engine vehicle,” Mendel questioned, “then we have to serious consider what we will get them to accept in terms of battery electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles with their myriad of limitations, such as cost, driving range and refueling or recharging options.”

In the near term, Honda will pursue “expanded use of hybrids,” with a focus on making hybrid technology more affordable and appealing. With the 2010 Insight, Honda tried to offer the most affordable high-efficiency hybrid, but the Prius-look-alike did not meet its sales targets—because the price tag is not low enough and the mpg is not high enough. The company could face a similar problem with its attempt at hybrid sportiness, the Honda CR-Z due this summer. Mendel reiterated Honda’s plans to offer hybrid technology in its Acura luxury brand, and said the company was investing in lithium ion battery technology for future hybrids.

Hydrogen fuel cells are the “ultimate alternative to petroleum,” according to Mendel. He pointed to the Honda FCX Clarity as a successful use of the technology, but acknowledged that it will take decades to overcome market obstacles.

Reluctant Steps Forward

Honda EV Plus

Honda produced about 300 units of the all-electric EV Plus in the late 1990s.

Despite its questioning of policy support for electric-drive cars, Honda is considering the possibility of producing a plug-in hybrid. “We have a few things in the kitchen,” Mendel said. Nonetheless, he expressed concerns about the cost, weight and durability of hybrids with larger battery packs. Honda is also researching a short-distance all-electric city commuter car, according to Mendel.

The Honda executive said that new electric cars hitting the market later this year have roughly the same driving range as Honda’s 1997 EVPlus electric car, and continue to be expensive. “Despite legitimate advancements in [electric car] technology and infrastructure,” Mendel said, “There remain significant hurdles to high-volume market appeal.”

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  • Scott Z

    OK on one side I agree. The government should just state we need you to achieve X MPG per gallon or you can only create X amount of pollution. Something along those lines so each company can design their own path to that end goal. May the best company win!

    On the other hand he is dead wrong about hybrids and why their market share is so small after a decade+. There is simple so little choice on the hybrid front people are forced to still buy normal gas cars. I have a family and I was dying to get a minivan hybrid but no one makes one. I don’t even care if it is a hybrid. Just give me something that can carry a family, dog and some luggage on road trips that gets me over 40 MPG and I am there. Heck I will take over 35 MPG. The pathetically small choice of hybrids or fuel efficient cars is why I have a prius for 90% of my driving and a Odyssey for the other 10%. Wake up auto peeps and give me more options. If you do you will get my money. Can I be any clearer?!?!?!?

  • DC

    Hydrogen fuel cells are the “ultimate alternative to petroleum? What a moron. EV’s work now, are very efficent, less complex, and if mass-produced would be every bit as reliable and affordable as the filthy ICE’s he clearly loves so much. He complains about a technology that was ready and viable decades ago to the hydrogen hoax which even he has to admit, will take “decades”(ie never) to get a H2 FCV to market. Which of course is exactly what shell, chevron bp etc pay guys like him to say.

    But he saves the best for last

    “There remain significant hurdles to high-volume market appeal.”

    Yes there are, mainly in that no one is actually makeing or promoteing EVs for the mass-market. For years, auto makers have been saying EV’s are just around the corner. Well here we are decades later and i STILL cant go out and buy a mass-market EV. IF that is not a hurdle then I dont know what is. But step outside and its ICE’s far as the eye can see-really .Well see about the leaf(maybe, time will tell there) and GM volt-hoax with its patheic sub-40 mile range will never go anywhere-litterally. This guy seems rather upset that people are comeing to realize the EV represent the only real viable future for transport. This is a decision based on facts and science, rather than politics, greed and corruption which left the world a slave to the ICE engine for the last century. The same science shows ICE’s are disaster and his FCV fantasy would be an even bigger disaster. His mantra of “let industry decide how best to go about it” is riduculous. Industry are the ones are trashing the planet with there gas-powered mobile trash-bins. They are the LAST people we should trust to move us to a healtier enviroment . Honda is the GM of the japanese car-makers. They share many of GM attributes. The both love H2 and neither of them can produce an acceptable hybrid(worthless as those are). People tend to forget that Honda crushed the perfectly viable EV+ shown above just as eagerly as GM crushed there own EV1’s.

  • Samie

    “The Honda executive [Mendel] believes that government’s role should be to set goals for achieving improvements in air quality, climate change and energy sustainability, and to “leave it to industry to figure out how to get there.”

    Is he joking because the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers which represents most manufactures, has a history of fighting tooth and nail against higher CAFE standards and fighting CO2 regulations. Please tell me I am missing something here…….

    Did the a la carte of alternatives pan out under the Bush Administration? That’s what I thought, distracting people with hydrogen, E85/flex, and ethanol was a joke and had more merit than EV’s. I am not usually in favor of picking one alternative over another but electric gives people enormous amount of options on how they provide electricity to the vehicle including independent power that is NOT from a grid. Does any other alternative right now do that? No, again independent distribution is key.

    Yes hybrids are only 3 percent but may be you should be speaking to your engineers and not spitting out silly talking points, about why you can’t compete against Toyota.

  • Nelson Lu

    Honda’s taking this view for self-interest; they knew that they’ve fallen behind virtually everybody else on EVs and hybrid technology.

  • Christof

    Honda’s foot-dragging on EVs and PHEVs is exactly why it will be losing this loyal customer to another automaker very soon.

    I’ve had a 1992 Acura for 18 years. Loved it. I bought it new — and it’s been a great car, and it still runs great.

    We would’ve gone back to Honda for our next car — if it was offering an EV or PHEV within the next couple of years.

    But it’s not — supposedly because consumers (guess we don’t count) don’t want them.

    Personally, I think it’s because Honda is putting its eggs in the hydrogen basket, not the EV/PHEV basket. Of course, if Mendel was putting his money where his mouth is, then Honda, too, would diversify and acknowledge that a diversity of fuel options — as opposed to a single one — is the future of automotive fueling.

  • DownUnder

    Brand T said that they’ll have hybrid version for EVERY model of their brand by 2020. If you can wait . . .

  • Collin Burnell

    I have to admit. I am a little surprised that the Insight is not selling better. It really is a nice little car. I don’t think it needs to be cheaper and 43 MPG’s is quite respectable. It’s just that the Prius is such a great car. Maybe Honda should stop trying to make Toyota-Killers. I think the CR-‘Zet’ (For you UK’ers) 🙂 might be an indication of (that). But I fear that it is only a 2-seater and because of that will have limited appeal.

    I have to disagree with Scott Z. Hybrids are present in almost every category now except Mini-Vans. Manufacturers are all putting some type of Hybrid ‘on the table’.

    We as a group are great at complaining without fully understanding the challenges our complainee’s face. Auto executive face HUGE decision challenges. For most manufacturers, developing Hybrids is a huge risk. We should be acknowledging them for the efforts they have made.

    Wow! Did I just say that?


  • bradykp

    You are exactly right. When we bought our first vehicle in 2005, we went with the TSX because of value for money in a “nicer” car. I get about 34mpg highway and low 20s city. We are shopping for a second car now and want something a little bigger. The ford escape is virtually the only option, and it doesn’t cut it.

    Here is someone begging to buy a hybrid, a diesel, or an electric car, and there isn’t one out there for me.

    The list is pathetic. Give us diesels! Give us better hybrids! Give us electric!

    Wish I could hold out for the leaf, but it will be too long before it is available in NYC area, which is baffling to me.

  • bradykp

    But they are putting the efforts in the wrong place. We don’t want a Chevy Tahoe that gets 20mpg instead of 16, we want something larger than a standard sedan or compact that gets 35mpg instead of 25.

    They can do it, but they are dropping hybrids in stupid cars.

    Ford could have released the edge Hybrid in 2010, but decided not to.

    the list is pathetic really.

    Honda is just whining because the civic hybrid isn’t worth it really, the insight is ok. But the two seater will be about as popular as the old insight.

    When even the better companies are getting it wrong and not listening to those of us that want these things, it just makes me believe further that they are deeply entwined with the oil companies.

    8,000 Leafs pre-ordered already and it doesn’t come out til December!

    Yet they are claiming we’re not ready for these types of vehicles!

  • Nelson Lu

    Bradykp, you “want something a little bigger” than a TSX and said that “[F]ord [E]scape is virtually the only option,” and yet you say that you want a Leaf? The Leaf is significantly smaller than the TSX and certainly every other EV/hybrid option out there right now.

    If you want something bigger, it depends on whether you want a sedan or an SUV, and if you want an SUV, the Toyota Highlander is an option (and I don’t know why you think that the Escape doesn’t cut it; I trust you to make the call yourself, but I certainly can’t see what’s wrong with it). If you want a sedan, the Ford Fusion, which I drive, is excellent, although it is not significantly bigger than the TSX. If you want to go upscale a bit and get something larger and can afford it, the Mercedes S-class and Lexus GS are both options.

  • Nelson Lu

    And, if you want a luxury mid-size and are willing to wait for a few months, wait for the Lincoln MKZ.

  • Old Man Crowder

    I have to agree with Nelson Lu’s first comment re: Honda falling behind.

    Honda sounds a bit like a kid on a losing baseball team. Rather than try to play better, he says “it’s a stupid game anyway”, and blames the umps for making bad calls.

    Sounds like some sour grapes to me.

  • Dom

    I do have to agree with his first statement… the government has no business picking a technology and pushing that exclusively. Gas, diesel, hybrids, plugins, EVs, etc all have their strengths and weaknesses, so give us options so each person can pick what works best for them.

  • Craig

    What about the cleanest car in America? The Honda Civic GX.

  • Anonymous

    > conventional hybrids, which represent less than 3 percent

    Does anybody now what the percentage is in the ‘Prius’-sized car segment is?

    Looking only the the percentage of the ‘total car sales’ gives in my opinion the wrong picture. There is no big (or no at all) selection of good hybrid cars for most car classes. Many pretend to be hybrids, but don’t improve mpg enough to justify buying them. If there is nothing to choose from, of course the ‘traditional’ car will have the majority. The interesting number would be in a segment, where the consumer has a true choice.

  • Eric

    Honda is becoming the Japanese equivalent of the old GM…complaining instead of innovating. The bottom line is, electricity can be created from numerous resources including renewable clean energy. I’m all for hydrogen in theory but until the technology advances it is irrelevant. Meanwhile electricity is already plentiful, and over time will get cleaner.

  • Yegor

    “Does anybody now what the percentage is in the ‘Prius’-sized car segment is?”

    I consider Prius to be a small car by passenger volume. Small cars account to 18% of U.S. market which about 2 millions. Prius sold 139,682 last year. If you add Civic and Insight hybrids it will be 175,373 for small hybrids which is about 9% of all small cars sold in U.S.

    I do agree that choice of bigger hybrids is ridiculous. All mid-size hybrids are a joke of a car – they block access from the trunk to the passenger area. I am not a reach person I can only afford a one car – I cannot buy so useless cars that do not have versatility.

  • Nelson Lu

    Yegor, what you consider to be insufficiently versatile is not going to be necessarily insufficiently versatile for everyone. So far, I haven’t had a single occasion where I found the Fusion Hybrid’s trunk to be inadequate, for example, and I’ve put nearly 30K miles on it. (And the Camry Hybrid and the Malibu Hybrid do have fold-down rear seats, although the Fusion Hybrid doesn’t.) Calling them jokes is a failure to recognize that people have different needs for their cars.

    And if you actually can only have one vehicle and want maximum versatility out of it, and wants that vehicle to be a hybrid, the Escape Hybrid is more versatile than the Prius.

  • David

    The problem with electric is that it could possibly put a lot of people out of work. The need for gas stations (which could become hydrogen stations) would decrease significantly (because charging stations would only be used in emergencies). What do you with all those people who are gas station attendants/owners?

    But that’s also the great thing about electric. imagine how much gas station land could be used for other purposes .. oh’s contaminated with oil…

  • Nelson Lu

    Gas stations could become quick-charge stations, and in any case, they wouldn’t be going away for another 25-30 years no matter how well EVs sell. Plenty of time for transitions.

  • TF


  • davg

    if honda made a the civic hybrid a wagon, or mild hybrid element or fit, i’d be driving a honda hybrid today, they dont make it…
    if toyota had a hybrid matrix, i might have gotten that, they dont…
    mazda 3 hatch hybrid… nope…
    no small hatch, small sport wagon hybrids = no sale for me

    suv’s are ok, but i cant stand the extra insurance rate on top of all the costs for them…

    they dont make the hybrids i want, so i dont have a hybrid right now, pure and simple… (and yes i know, the kammback body style is the end all, be all of body styling for more areo dynamics on small, heavy cars…)

    so, this guy is trying to make news for his opinion, instead of actually having news about honda products (hybrid or not), i’ve always liked u honda, but please shut this guys trap up, “We have a few things in the kitchen,”

  • BEW

    The best way to get people to buy hybrids and EVs is to make gasoline cost the same as in Europe, $10/gallon. Unfortunately taxing gaoline like this is a new “third rail.” Can you imagine what our government would do with this added revenue?

  • ex-EV1 driver

    David is right. EVs will put a lot of people out of work. This will include the automobile repair and oil-related industries as well as the military and defense contractor (my industry). Even with quick-charge stations, most charging will be done at home and quick-chargers, unlike dangerous gasoline, don’t require an attendant.
    The upside is that EVs will make life cheaper for society (including those in the gasoline industry) and better. Just like any technology improvement does (cellphones reduced the need for telephone linemen, word processors put the typists out of work, etc) changes to the status quo will be needed.
    We can just divert the military costs to retraining out of work people to modern professions.

  • Dean

    US Secretary of Energy made a sensible decision – he looked at the national systems for distributing energy. We have two of them: electric power and gasoline. Building up anything else, like hydrogen, will cost hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars, and take years, and only be profitable after it reaches saturation coverage.

    Some areas of the country have good natural gas coverage. There are a few cars that have natural gas conversion kits but they’re no good without a network of fueling stations. There’s also a marketing problem: “natural gas” is too hard to spell and pronounce. Getting everyone to say “CNG” will require a huge effort that only a big company can drive. The only major “oil company” that’s positioned itself to become a “motor fuel company” is BP and they have other problems right now.

  • Collin

    Hi. I am doing a school project on Hybrid Vehicles. I need some information on these cars. My main question is “How is the source used to generate power currently in the United States”. Please reply as soon as possible. Thanks