At the Tokyo Motor Show this week, carmakers revealed the usual array of concepts ranging from fuel cell sedans to electric sports cars. Honda plays this game as well as any major carmaker, and this year brought an electrified version of its Fit subcompact, an electric Micro Commuter Concept that somewhat resembles a Renault Twizy, a 100-mile-range electric roadster similar in size and style to the Honda S2000, and a plug-in hybrid concept called the Honda Advanced Cruiser-X (AC-X), similar in functionality to Toyota’s forthcoming Prius HPV plug-in hybrid.
But beyond the concepts, Honda president Takanobu Ito’s message to reporters at Tokyo this year was focused on the near term, namely the period between model year 2012 and 2020―by which time Honda has pledged to reduce average emissions of its vehicles by 30 percent. When asked whether Honda plans to keep pace with Nissan’s electric vehicle program and its goal of selling 1.5 million electrics by 2015, Ito urged a broader view of green vehicle technologies, which by his company’s vision include electric vehicles but are by no means centered around them.
“If you think about the concept EVs introduced by Honda at this Tokyo Motor Show, you see that electric cars are important. I will not deny that,” said Ito. “But when you consider the performance of batteries, the charging times, plus the cost of batteries, I think pure EVs would be best for compact, very small cars.”
For larger vehicles―which will undeniably continue play a significant role in the consumer automotive market for the foreseeable future―Honda favors hybrid technology like that that will be featured in the newly resurrected Accord hybrid, which will reportedly go on sale in Japan next year. The original Accord hybrid was a flop in the U.S. thanks to its $3,000 price premium and relatively low fuel economy compared to other hybrids. Though the car offered superior performance and more roominess than other gas-electrics and offered considerable fuel savings compared to the standard Accord V6, hybrid shoppers favored cars at the higher end of the efficiency spectrum, like the Prius.
For the forthcoming Accord hybrid, Honda has developed a new dedicated powertrain for mid- and large-sized vehicles that includes an updated continuously variable transmission and a new variable valve timing system, which transitions the engine from Atkinson cycle timing for highway driving to a standard Otto cycle for improved performance in the city.
“We believe we already have the technology in our hands, and for the next 10 to 20 years,” said Ito. “I think in order to reduce CO2, we would have to use these different technologies, of which pure battery cars are one. But proportion-wise, I think hybrids will be the largest.”