While Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota are committed to making hydrogen fuel cell vehicles widely adopted, all three automakers seem to agree that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) make for the best transitional green car technology.
For fuel cell cars, there’s the challenge of very few hydrogen fueling stations being available, massive vehicle development costs, and low consumer adoption. All three automakers have plans in place to roll out plug-in hybrid iterations of existing models. It will go well beyond upcoming launches of the Toyota Prius Prime and PHEV versions of the Hyundai Ioniq and Honda Clarity.
PHEVs will be part of Hyundai’s Genesis brand to compete with other luxury carmakers rolling out plug-in hybrid variants of existing models. For all of Hyundai’s product planning, PHEVs make a lot of sense, according to Dave Zuchowski, CEO of Hyundai Motor America. Generous government incentives for PHEVs allow automakers to fulfill regulatory obligations and to market cars that are cheaper to buy and own than basic hybrids, he said.
PHEVs have been more of a bright spot with automakers lately as hybrid and electric vehicle sales have softened in the context of cheap gas prices and competitively priced small gas-engine cars. U.S. sales of PHEVs increased 40 percent in the first quarter of 2016, according to Edmunds.
Toyota may have a head start over the other two automakers. Beyond the Prius Prime being introduced later this year, Toyota offers four regular hybrids that could be adapted as PHEVs. Toyota has declined to announce upcoming PHEVs, thought its next-generation Camry will be rolling out next year. The Camry has been part of Toyota’s hybrid lineup for several years.
Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor North America CEO, talked to Automotive News at the New York auto show in March about the efficiency of transitioning over to PHEVs. They take the least amount of r&d, he said, and there’s other unrealized efficiency to draw out of PHEVs.
“Every time you improve the battery or you improve the [internal combustion engine], then you improve the overall range and mileage of a PHEV,” Lentz said. “So to me that’s the next big move in volume.”
Hyundai is considering PHEV variants of all its models. Hyundai currently has a core model with a PHEV variant, the Sonata, which will be followed by PHEVs in crossovers, the upcoming Ioniq, and Genesis brands.
Honda says it till offer PHEV variants of its core models. These will be separate from its upcoming Clarity lineup, which will include a fuel cell model this year and PHEV and battery electric versions next year. Honda’s next-generation CR-V, due next year, is likely to have a PHEV version.
“Globally we’re committed to offering a plug-in variant on our major core models in the future,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., said while announcing the Clarity plans last month.