Honda’s Hybrid Comeback: Hybrid Minivans and SUVs

Honda is developing a hybrid system suitable for larger cars such as the Odyssey minivan the Pilot sports utility vehicle. Tomohiko Kawanabe, Honda’s chief operating officer for automobile research and development, today told Reuters, “We’ve left the research stage and entered the field of development.” Kawanabe said these vehicles could hit the US market in about three years.

Honda took an early lead in hybrid development about a decade ago, but has fallen behind Toyota and Ford in the race for appealing fuel-efficient gas-electric vehicles. Honda has been advocating a two-part efficiency strategy: diesel vehicles for larger vehicles and hybrids for cars. However, it appears that the company might be flipping that strategy by producing larger hybrids for the US market and diesels with smaller engines for Europe and Asia.

In late 2008, the company abandoned its large-vehicle diesel strategy, but held firm to its goal of producing smaller relatively affordable hybrids. In July 2009, Honda president Takanobu Ito promised to speed up production of hybrid cars, focusing on small hybrids, such as the CR-Z and a Honda Fit Hybrid. Ito said, “Our theme is hybrids.” In January 2010, Ito said that it apply hybrid technology to Acura vehicles.

However, its biggest move in that direct, the 2010 Honda Insight, failed to capture interest from consumers. Last week, Honda Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo told Bloomberg that the 2010 Honda Insight might have compromised too much size in the name of efficiency, and hinted that the company might abandon plans for a gas-electric Fit. “There are plenty of people who think that the current Fit meets their needs already” Kondo said. “A hybrid version might seem expensive. Our engineers are really struggling.”

New Life for Honda Hybrids

In today’s interview with Reuters, Honda’s Kawanabe said the company is studying development of a small diesel engine for emerging markets including India, as well as in Europe. “If you want to compete in markets like India, and also Europe, (a small diesel engine) is necessary.”

Honda’s single motor hybrids are less expensive than gas-electric systems offered by Toyota and Ford, which are considered “full” hybrids. However, many observers believe that Honda will need to develop a full hybrid system, and eventually a plug-in hybrid, to be competitive.

The prospect of a full range of Honda hybrids, especially a Honda hybrid minivan, is expected to be well received by hybrid fans. Toyota’s recent quality problems could create an opportunity for Honda to become competitive with hybrids. If Honda can succeed, a new level playing field for hybrids could emerge, with Toyota, Ford, Honda, General Motors and Nissan going head-to-head with electric-drive vehicles.


  • Eric

    We have two Honda Civics and they have been great little cars. Unfortunately, I won’t be buying another Honda. Very high MPG or all electric is all we will consider in our household now.

  • FamilyGuy

    I’d like very high MPG, too. But at the same time, I’d like to be able to bring along my wife, two kids and perhaps the kids’ grandparents or the kids’ aunt or someone else. Being limited to four people in the car (Altima Hybrid) means TWO cars everytime more then just the four of us want to go out to the park or to get an ice cream or something.

    Very excited about the idea of the hybrid minivan. If the cost is over $40k and the combined MPG is only 25 (that’s up 25% from the 20 MPG combined currently on the Honda Odyssey), gas is going to need to be pretty expensive to justify the purchase. I hope that Honda can find a balance between improved MPG in the minvan and cost to the consumer.

    I’d even welcome a smaller version of the current minivan offered by Honda. A fully loaded Honda Odyssey goes for over $40k and gets 17 city / 25 highway / 20 combined. A fully loaded Mazda5 goes for around $27k and gets 21/27 (combined not listed on their website). Right now, I’d trade the extra space offered by Honda for the $13k in savings and better MPG by getting the Mazda (although, I am yet to test drive either).

    Could the hybrid version of the Mazda at least get in the 30+ MGP range? My Subaru has 111k miles on it. I’m hoping to get another 3-4 years out of it and have more hybrid (or EV) options in something the seats 6.

    At least an article like this is a step in the right direction compared to more small hybrids or very, very expensive SUV hybrids.

  • Jerry

    Where the heck is the Sienna Hybrid? According to this site, the van was available in Japan. What — North America isn’t good enough?

    I want something to replace my crummy Dodge Grand Caravan Sport, 2003. Aside from it’s internal space, it’s a piece of junk that’s a repair-monster

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Come on Honda,
    all you ever said about your 1st hybrid, the Insight, was that “you don’t have to plug it in”. No wonder it didn’t sell with that passion-stirring poetry.
    Then the lame Accord hybrid that set a new complexity high water mark. All that could be said of it was that you could get V6 performance with I4 mpg.
    Now, don’t blow it this time. Make a decent hybrid version of your Oddysey and I think you’ll have a winner. Good mpg and capicity to carry the whole family would be great.
    A hybrid CR-Z with respectable performance (compared with a Tesla, not a Civic) might sell too.

  • Markb

    I wish they would come back out with a hybrid accord, I have an 08 ex-L with navi and it gets me 22 combind city/hwy if they were able to get it come in line with that other junk car the toyota then I would like to drive it but I just hate toyota a nice acura TL hybrid now that would be fun to drive

  • Anonymous

    Markb:

    what’s the point of making 22 combind city/hwy accord hybrid? there is a reason why it failed so badly. hope honda learned their lesson and understands what makes hybrid popular is the fuel economy, not additional power assist

  • Rob D

    I couldn’t believe I read the following: “Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo told Bloomberg that the 2010 Honda Insight might have compromised too much size in the name of efficiency…” Come on Koichi, The Ford Fusion is a bigger car and gets much better gas mileage, allbeit, at a significantly higher price. But still, “compromised too much size in the name of efficiency”? Perhaps his comment explains why Honda is out in left field with it’s hybrids. And for its all gas vehicles, I still gag everytime I see a Honda Accord commercial “boasting about 32 mpg”. The Chevy Malibu gets better gas mileage.

  • Nelson Lu

    Honda’s problems with its hybrids are analogous to GMs, albeit on a lesser scale; the problem is not with *hybrids* — the problem is you guys don’t do it right.

  • Elliot

    In three years I will likely be looking for a new car. If that Odyssey gets 30mpg or better I will seriously consider it. If not….forget it.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Anonymous,
    The problem with the HAH wasn’t that it used the hybrid for more power. The problem was how it did so.
    They should have put a strong electric motor on a 4-cylinder gas engine so it got better fuel economy than the 4-cyl yet better acceleration than the V-6. Instead, they used a ridiculously complicated V-6 that could have 2 cylinders shut down, and a wimpy electric assist that almost overcame the inefficiency of the V-6.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Elliot,
    I’m with you. There is no reason it shouldn’t get 30 mpg or better. If not, Honda is still not serious and I highly recommend nobody buy it.

  • BigWu

    “Come on Koichi, The Ford Fusion is a bigger car and gets much better gas mileage…” – robby-d

    Ford Fusion Hybrid: It’s large, it’s luxurious, loaded with luscious technology, handsome, and bests the teeny-tiny Insight in MPG. It’s a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too no compromises car, the first car I’ve loved since my ’67 Mustang.

    It isn’t that Honda compromised too much in the name of efficiency on the Insight, it’s that Honda’s hybrid technology is heinously deficient.

    Koichi: the path to victory is to develop a fantastic hybrid drivetrain and put it in the TL and MDX. This is what Ford and Lexus have done with their Fusion and RX450h (respectively).

  • Dom

    Come on Honda… there are some US buyers that would have much preferred the diesel options…

  • Dan Verlinden

    I still dont understand why they can’t make a good practical SUV vehicle – with both diesel and hybrid technology…

  • Anonymous

    Is Honda engineering that far behind? Maybe…in three years… pathetic. Thank you Ford…not that I’d consider Japanese engineering anyway. I support America. It’s easy to do when they put out a better product. Anyone can say what they want about G.M. getting a loan from our country. It’ll be paid back soon and the Volt technology will hopefully be the start of something great to be built upon by many automakers. Thank You for leading the way G.M.. It’s the price the leaders of technology have to pay. It’s expensive. You don’t get to copy from others. Keep it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rotciv

    Why within 3 years, why not now! I have a Honda odyssey and it drives real good and it does save gas specially when hauling the family, I will trade as soon as I know that Honda have the hybrid minivan model. Make them now!!!

  • Max Reid

    Hello Honda

    Nothing is lost on Insight. 92,000 Insights were sold in japan last year.

    If Insight gives 43 MPG and Prius gives 50 MPG and costs 3K more and has 6 cu. ft. extra cargo space, it makes sense to buy Prius.

    Reduce the price of Insight by 1K and can get 1000′s more customers.

    As for minivans, its a shrinking market and I dont know why Honda is out there to make a Hybrid minivan.

  • jthapa

    A two-toned dash swooped its way around front passengers in the same fashion as a whirl of a fairy godmother’s wand. The power-adjustable leather front seats are both heated and cooled. Glossy wood accents added refinement to the doors, center console and gearshift.

  • Erik

    Because those of us with families want the space. Right now we take the big diesel motorhome (10mpg on a lucky day with tailwind) for family comfort. Next family purchase will in all likelihood be a used Odyssey. I just kick myself for not getting a Civic GX years and years ago.

  • Bob Co

    I’m disappointed Honda abandoned diesel for it’s cars in the US. It’s a shame that Insight wasn’t a diesel. I’d probably already own it. People want cars fun to drive, good torque, somewhat utilitarian. VW gets it. Audi gets it. Honda doesn’t. I’m a Honda owner (CR-V) so I’m not anti Honda. Just disappointed on more bland cars from them.

  • Fred Bulkowski

    I have had Acuras Legend and RL since 1990.My car Acura 2005 RL. My next car wont be an Acura. UUUGGLY designs. Next car will be a diesel hybrid from MB.
    Honda has lost it. Not in touch.Was waiting for the diesels from Honda. Won’t anymore.
    The Europeans get it.

  • LLW

    I live in the northeast…any chance of getting all wheel drive in the odyssey? I also don’t want to wait another three years to replace the odyssey i’m driving with a hybrid. Honda originally promised we would have hybrid minivans in north america in 2008. I think they owe us after the PAX debacle. Get a move on it Honda!

  • Yegor

    Fit Hybrid? Are you crazy?
    It will be even smaller than “Insight”. With “Insight” falling flat to the ground what do they expect from a Fit Hybrid?
    By the way Fit has the same Wheelbase and Width as Insight but Fit is shorter.
    What Honda needs is a little bit bigger Prius (1600 kg) with 5 star crash test rating. This kind of car will sell more than Prius.

  • Yegor

    Honda is now selling only 3,500 Insight’s per month in Japan (eg 42,000 per year). Prius is selling 27,000 per month in Japan. Everyone is turning to Prius.

  • Yegor

    “Last week, Honda Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo told Bloomberg that the 2010 Honda Insight might have compromised too much size in the name of efficiency” – Amen!

  • Renae

    During the past twenty years I have owned three Hondas. Two of them were Accords. In general I was pleased with the vehicles but continued to wish for a gas-electric or diesel-electric version… A hybrid if you will. When the hybrid came out I was rather disappointed in Honda’s approach which I felt was far from ideal.

    What am I looking for in a liquid fuel-electric hybrid car?

    First let me define for you what it is I will not tolerate in the vehicle.

    I have absolutely no interest in a liquid fuel-electric vehicle which looks like a box, or like a SUV, or like a van. I want a large size four door sedan.

    I do not want a car which has a battery which is capable of less than 150 miles of endurance should the engine- generator fail for any reason. That’s 150 miles climbing the steepest winding mountain roads imaginable.

    I do not want a car which uses either the liquid fuel engine or the electric motor(s) to ‘assist’ the other in propelling the vehicle.

    Now, what do I want to see?

    First, a car that is a four door sedan and which is physically indistinguishable from it’s liquid fuel only brother or sister. The only way you could tell I am driving a hybrid-electric is by the simple identifier on the vehicle… “hybrid”. If it’s a well designed car, I don’t mind people knowing about it or asking questions about it.

    Second, I want a car which has four independent electric at-the-wheel motors so if one electric motor fails the other three will be capable of getting me to a location where my vehicle may be serviced and I shall not be stranded (for instance in the desert in the middle of summer at 120 or 130 degrees Fahrenheit). And yes that happened to me. I have a heart condition so that little escapade was quite frightening. There was no cellular service out there and if I had not had a two way radio in the car I could have died.

    Third, the gas (or diesel) engine should run at a constant optimum speed for energy efficiency driving a generator for maximum output for the amount of fuel used. Twenty-five kilowatts of generator output should be quite adequate, thirty would be a plus. That should require approximately a forty-five to sixty horsepower liquid fuel engine. It should also allow the four electric motors to bring the vehicle to 60 mph from a standing start in less than 8 seconds (more likely less than 6). Twenty-five kilowatts of electrical motor is a LOT of torque, and electric motors like to produce their torque at the startup of rotation. For this very reason the ‘TESLA’ car company has needed to design a sensing system into their controls which prevents the electric motor from “burning rubber” off of the tires. With four separate driving motors (one per tire) this feature could provide a sort of electronic posi-traction.

    Fourth, if the generator’s output is not fully needed for use in the electric motors, such as when driving at constant speed on level ground, then the remaining output could be channeled into the battery or the amount of that output could be reduced should the battery already be fully charged.

    Fifth, since less electrical horsepower is necessary to produce the same locomotion in an electric vehicle than that which is required by a car driven by a gasoline or diesel engine; the size of the gas or diesel engine may be smaller and still provide all the energy necessary to run the generator which powers the electric motors. A six cylinder 1.8 or 2.0 liter diesel engine would likely be very nice. Six cylinders tend to survive much longer than four cylinder engines when confronted with variations in torque (changing loads on the generator). Take a look at successful trailer mounted electrical generator sets such as the 30KW Kohler. Further, some of the change in load could be borne by the battery (such as when going up long hills or rapid fluctuations in charge-discharge as seen from the battery’s viewpoint). The battery may be recharged by the generator (and regenerative braking) during the downhill portion of the trip.

    Sixth, once the destination is reached, the engine-generator could be allowed to continue to run (if desired) to top off the battery (such as during a meal break); and then automatically shut down when the battery is fully charged. The engine could be “hard” stopped via key removal in the “OFF” position vs the “top off” position. This “hard OFF” would be necessary during refueling of the vehicle and an interlock could be present which would prevent opening the fueling hatch if the key has been removed without going to hard OFF for the engine.

    Seventh, I would like a minimum of an eight hundred mile range. If the vehicle is capable of 50 to 70 miles per gallon then at least eight hundred mile range on one tank of fuel would not be out of the question. The increased efficiency would reduce the total fuel necessary to be carried on board and thus reduce the weight slightly. For me eight hundred miles is approximately one day’s driving during a vacation. This also would give me greater protection should for some unknown reason I find the fuel providers happen to be closed as I am passing the four hundred mile mark so common to most vehicles for their tank of fuel. Yes, I have had this happen and have been forced to sleep in the car in the middle of nowhere waiting for them to open again the next morning. If I had another one hundred fifty miles of range I could have continued on to the next series of fueling stations which were open all night.

    Eighth, every accessory/ convenience available on the liquid fuel version of the vehicle should also be available on the hybrid vehicle. I have often discovered that there are accessories which are not available or which are reduced energy consumption versions when found on the hybrid vehicle in an effort to increase fuel economy. That’s great I suppose, but it tells me that the vehicle manufacturers think those who want a hybrid car are second class citizens.

    So… No boxes, no miniature cars which necessitate a can opener to allow me to get in or out (I have a broken spine and cannot flex), no lightweight cars which crumple up at the first hint of a collision, and the car must have full leg room both for it’s front seat and it’s rear seat occupants (at the same time). In other words the vehicle is full size, full weight and has only the propulsion system, battery, and controls altered (within reasonable limits).

    Any other suggestions, dreams, desires????

    Sorry, I’m not interested in designing a hybrid racing car nor an all electric version. Besides, they won’t allow an all electric to complete in the “500″ anyway… At least not for the prize money.

    Let’s see… the new hollow wire battery or a paper battery for high energy capacity, an in the pit recharging station, 500 mile range at 250 mph per battery, 35 second battery change out during the pit stop. Hmmmm…

  • Paloma

    My husband drives the Honda Hybrid and loves it. He gets on average, 44-46 miles per gallon.

  • Gina

    My husband has been driving a Toyota Prius since giving up his Honda Accord (his 2nd and he had loved them) … it’s been over 2 yrs. now. Our son also had a Honda Civic he loved but now drives a Toyota.

    My husband absolutely loves the Prius — he is almost 6′ 4″ tall, so not a small guy. This little car has a lot more room in it that I would ever have guessed … we often have 4 people riding in it. It always gets at least 40 mpg and when the temperature is over 50 F. outside (we live in the upper midwest) it often gets over 55 mpg. Unbelievable! It also does fine in the snow unless it is really deep, but then we shouldn’t be out, right?

    I drive a Lexus and did not get the hybrid when I bought it … I bought it prior to the Prius purchase. I am considering trading it in for a hybrid model, perhaps even the Toyota Highlander instead of the Lexus so I can have seats for 6. Yes, we were also loyal Honda customers before, but they are just not serious about hybrids. Toyota has beaten everyone at it in our opinion.

  • Rommel

    WE want a HYBRID MINIVAN now…. we are ready to trade our honda pilot for a hybrid minivan. I think it will be a real hit especially now that gas prices are going up and i think it will stay up for awhile.. along while.

  • Jake

    I am need of a new vehicle and want a hybrid minivan! With gas prices now over $4 per gallon, I will not buy a minivan that cant get at least an average of 30mpg!

  • maf6538

    I think Honda wasted their time with the new Insight, trying to compete w/ the Prius. They should have concentrated hybrid efforts to a mini-van… especially for the American market (I have a feeling that the US is the largest buyers of mini-vans). Toyota already had the market on the small passenger vehicle hybrid. I see a lot of older Odysseys around and if most other owners are like me, I have no desire to purchase another unless it’s a hybrid. And overall in regards to hybrids… if there are hybrid SUV’s sold in the US, why in the heck not a mini-van???????

  • raj

    Been waiting for a Diesel or Hybrid minivan for 3 years. Have been reading about them for a while. Very impressive writeups;but where are they? We live in N America and there is no sign of these minivans here. 3years are over Mr. Kawanabe. It is time to bring them here.

  • Art

    To correct some of the posts about the Honda Accord Hybrid from 2005, we had one for 2 years and it averaged 27 mpg overall. Not bad for V8 performance. Too bad the headlights were terrible and the door detents were inadequate to keep the doors open on a slightly pitched road. Also the seats were hard as rocks. That is why we got rid of it after 2 years despite good gas mileage.

  • Anonymous

    Your an idiot do you research. they are way ahead of us in everything you dork

  • tapra1

    “We’ve left the research stage and entered the field of development.” Kawanabe said these vehicles could hit the US market in about three years.Web Hosting Reviews

  • Odysseydave

    I have owned around 9 Honda cars and 5 Honda motorcycles since high school.
    I currently have a Honda Odyssey and an Accord which I will replace within the next 3 years.
    If a very highly efficient Odyssey is not available at that time, sadly, I will be looking elsewhere. I love my Odyssey but the fuel thing is a major factor.

  • Roi Semo

    EcoBoost V6 And Hybrid Synergy Drive as standard.