Honda Emerges as Major Proponent of Plug-in Cars

By · November 29, 2010

Honda Fit EV introduction at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Honda's announcement that it will produce the Fit EV by 2012 was arguably the most important story of the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Taking a trip back to the future, Honda announced at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show that it plans to produce an all-electric version of the Honda Fit by 2012. The main message from company executives was that Honda is not new to EVs or other electric-drive vehicles—having unveiled its prior pure battery electric car, the EV Plus, 13 years ago on the very same stage at the 1997 Los Angeles Auto Show.

The company pointed out its impressive timeline of battery-powered breakthroughs, including the Honda Insight, the first hybrid gas-electric car offered in the United States, to the FCX Clarity fuel cell electric vehicle. “We use these different platforms as a continuous learning platform,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda. He added, “We’re continuing to push the envelop on these new technologies,” referring to not only the Fit EV concept, but the two-motor plug-in hybrid system that Honda also unveiled in Los Angeles.

Honda talks about the Fit EV as part of its ongoing legacy.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Honda announcement is the emphatic manner in which it stated its support for plug-in vehicles—after nearly complete silence on electric cars and plug-in hybrid for the past several years. Mendel said “electric vehicles are entering the mainstream for consumers” and that Honda’s EV and PHEV technology “leapfrogs on a number of different fronts the competition in the marketplace.”

No Doubts about Big Demand

Minutes after the unveiling of the Fit EV, I spoke with Elmer Hardy, Honda’s senior manager of alternative vehicles. “We truly totally committed to producing this vehicle and making it available on the streets of the U.S.,” Hardy said. “I suspect the biggest challenge will be meeting demand. We anticipate that the public is ready for electric vehicles, and expect great demand.”

What are the chances that Honda will come through with an electric car? 100 percent.

He said that Honda’s thinking had not really changed about electric cars, but suggested, “There’s a different feel in the marketplace, the government and the public.”

Honda declined to speak about production volume, but made a deliberate point to use two different numbers for the Fit EV’s range: 100 miles as a general principle, and 70 miles of range under adjusted EPA guidelines. The Fit EV will come with three modes—econ, normal and sport—an approach adapted from the 2011 Honda CR-Z sport hybrid. The modes will allow drivers to reduce accelerator response in order to maximize range.

The Fit EV utilizes the same 5-passenger layout found in the popular Fit hatchback, and the high-density motor derived from the FCX Clarity fuel cell electric vehicle. The Fit EV promises a top speed of 90 mph. The Fit EV will have a connectivity system—similar to other new EVs—allowing drivers to remotely view the vehicle's state of charge, initiate charging and activate the air conditioning, set charging notifications and alerts to optimize utility rates, provide 24-hour roadside assistance, and view a public charging station locator.

In this Honda-produced video about connectivity, the company coins a new phrase: "location anxiety."

Not Just EV, but also PHEV

Honda also unveiled its new two-motor plug-in hybrid system designed for a mid-size platform. “Plug-in hybrid technology is a bridge technology leading us to ultimately CO2-free vehicles,” said William Walton, manager of product planning at Honda. The Honda two-motor system continuously shifts between three different modes to maximize efficiency: all-electric, gasoline-electric and an “engine direct-drive mode,” in which only the engine drives the wheels during high-speed driving.

The plug-in hybrid uses a 6 kWh lithium-ion battery, a 120 kW electric motor, and a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with a Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT). The all-electric mode achieves a range of approximately 10-15 miles in city driving and a top speed of 62 mph. Fully recharging the battery will take 2 to 2.5 hours using a 120-volt outlet and 1 to 1.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet.

The new two-motor system represents a big step up in vehicle electrification from Honda’s IMA mild hybrid approach. It opens the possibility for full hybrids, as well as plug-in hybrids. Other Honda officials told me that the company believes that hybrids, both with and without plugs, will be bigger sellers than pure electric cars for decades to come. In fact, over the weekend, Japan’s Nikkei reported that in fiscal year 2011—that's next year, folks—Honda plans for hybrids to account for about 23 percent of its Japanese sales.

Comments

· · 4 years ago

I am just wondering where they is going to fit the 100 miles battery in such a small car?

· · 4 years ago

@Yegor

The normal Fit is only 20" shorter than the Leaf, 3" narrower and 1" shorter. There are no details about the Fit EV yet but since the size is almost the same it's a safe bet they can fit the same battery capacity with no trouble.

On topic: I think it's great that more companies are being more serious about bringing to market EVs to the general public, and that companies are mobilizing to provide charging infrastructure both private and public. I find it kinda funny that the Fit EV, as described, is almost identical to the Leaf! Coincidence?

· · 4 years ago

What a difference a few months make. It was only this past May that Takanobu Ito, Honda's CEO, said that electric vehicles are not viable for everyday use because of the current technology of batteries.

I'm glad they did an about-face, but curious as to what instigated this. We know there haven't been any battery breakthroughs since then. Could it be they saw all the LEAF and Volt pre-orders and just decided they wanted a piece of the EV pie?

· · 4 years ago

It is get in the game or die. The wind is strongly blowing in EV favor in our days - it is so obvious. And you have to start early. Honda procrastinated with Hybrids for a long time and it cost it dearly - 2 years of Japan government incentives and Toyota sold 500,000 Priuses while Honda sold almost nothing.

· · 4 years ago

I was a Honda fan -- how can I not be when I'm still driving the 1992 Acura Integra I bought new 18 year ago -- until it seemed like it was dragging its feet on EVs.

I'm back on board with Honda now, though, thanks to the about-face on plug-ins.

A slight diversion: Is GM the only one that's going to offer a PHEV with some real electric range? Why are Toyota, Honda, etc. offering smaller battery packs, less pure EV range?

I guess it's to keep the cost of the vehicles down, but personally I'd rather have a 25-50 mile pure electric range than a piddly 10 to 12 miles.

We want to ditch gas nearly completely with one pure, solar-charged EV, and one PHEV and the Volt makes it easier to do this than the Prius PHEV or Fit PHEV.

I guess we're probably in the minority on this, though.

Curious what others think and/or are doing -- anyone else going to one EV and one PHEV (it'll take us three or four years to get there, with the pure EV coming first, backed up by our 1992 Integra for long trips).

· Anonymous (not verified) · 4 years ago

@Yegor:

"Honda procrastinated with Hybrids for a long time and it cost it dearly - 2 years of Japan government incentives and Toyota sold 500,000 Priuses while Honda sold almost nothing."

I read that some questioned the wisdom of Toyota cutting the price of the third generation Prius too low (in Japan) in order to compete with Honda's lowered priced Insight, which led to buyers of potentially higher profit margin vehicles (e.g. Corolla, or even Mark X, Crown) switch to Prius and resulted in high opportunity cost to Toyota (see Bloomberg Jan 8, 2010 report).

On the other hand, I don't think Honda sold almost nothing - in year 2009, it sold almost 100,000 Insight, less than 11 months after launch in Japan, i.e. 60% above its original plan. CR-Z was launch about a year later and sales in Japan also greatly exceeded target and it became Japan Car of the Year 2010-11.

· Ormond Otvos (not verified) · 4 years ago

Once again, Honda hits the nail right on the head! (Full disclosure - I drive the best freeway scooter ever designed, the CN250 Helix) Just like with the Helix, they designed around a goal. Yes, the battery pack is 6kwh, but the car is light. The Volt has what, a 16kwh for a much heavier car? It's a true plug-in hybrid, and with such low charge times, even at house voltages, it will likely be perfect for the soccer mom, who has just about 2 hours between soccer, and school, and piano, and ballet lessons. Shopping no problem. Should sell like hotcakes. We need Scion Xb EV plug-in hybrid.

· JJ (not verified) · 4 years ago

The advantage of an EV is that in it's simplicity there is less maintenance.
No oil changes, no exhaust to rust, no sensors to fail, no filters to change. etc etc.
I wouldn't buy a hybrid with all those parts to break and repair.

· DougB (not verified) · 4 years ago

Honda said they would have clean diesel cars 2009 or 2010 and they have not produced. Do you feel certain that they will have an EV in 2012 it the US? I have my doubts.

· · 3 years ago

@DougB Honda has to. CARB says from 2012 auto majors have to sell zero emission cars. That is why Toyota is making RAV4 EV as well. Expect few leased vehicles in CA.

Conversions are cheap. Words are cheaper. Wake me up when Toyota/Honda spend a Billion $ on EVs.

· Brian (not verified) · 3 years ago

It is get in the game or die. The wind is strongly blowing in EV favor in our days - it is so obvious. And you have to start early. Honda procrastinated with Hybrids for a long time and it cost it dearly - 2 years of Japan government incentives and Toyota sold 500,000 Priuses while Honda sold almost nothing
.

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