As reported yesterday, the rumors of a major announcement by Honda regarding its entry into the world of plug-in cars have proven to be true. President and CEO, Takanobu Ito, in remarks at the automaker's facility in the Tokyo suburbs today, laid out an ambitious path for Honda to make up lost time in the battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation of consumer.
Noting that over the past several years "consumer preference has quickly shifted toward smaller sized vehicles in every automobile market around the world due to increasing environmental awareness on a global basis, as well as the structural changes that happened to the global economy," Ito was stark about the company's long term prospects. "Honda has no future unless we achieve significant reduction in CO2 emissions," he said. "The next 10 years will be a true test for Honda's survival."
Ito said that while Honda fully expects the gasoline engine to continue to dominate in the mid-term, and will start a major engine and transmission refresh across its lineup in 2012 to increase the fuel economy of its conventional cars, the company now realizes that plug-ins are going to be extremely important moving forward. Honda will also redouble its efforts to bring conventional hybrid vehicles to market and will introduce multiple models of them—mainly small sized—in the next year, starting with the Fit Hybrid.
For their plug-in efforts, Honda's Ito described a 10 year plan that starts with introducing a new plug-in hybrid system for mid- to large-size vehicles to Japan and the United States sometime in 2012. Ito also announced the long-awaited Honda jump into the modern pure battery electric realm, saying that such a vehicle is now expected to go on sale in Japan and the U.S. by 2012. Additionally, Honda, long a player in the motorcycle world, announced that it would be releasing electric bicycles and motorcycles to both "advanced and emerging nations" over the next few years.
But, even as Ito sounded hopeful about plug-in vehicles—in what has become typical for the modern Honda—he introduced some doubt into his own sales pitch, saying that there are still "some issues that need to be addressed" with pure battery electrics. He also said that Honda still fully expects that, "In the long-term, fuel-cell electric vehicles will provide the ultimate mobility," noting that technology developed for Honda's fuel cell program is being used to engineer their electric cars.
In preparation for the launch of its plug-in vehicles, Honda will begin demonstration programs this year that include such organizations as Stanford University, Google Inc., and the City of Torrance, California.
While all of this news sounds good to advocates of plug-in vehicles, it is lacking in the details that would make it sound more real. For instance, what type of pure battery electric is Honda working on? 2012 is only two short years away, has Honda been developing these vehicles in secret for the last 3 years, or do they really hope to bring a brand new vehicle to market from scratch in two years' time. Does this announcement from Ito represent a real shift in what, to this point, has been a lukewarm (and sometimes even hostile) attitude towards plug-in vehicles, or is it simply a way for Honda to ride the EV wave of governmental funding and media spotlight?
At this point Honda is far enough behind all of its rivals in this realm that it will take a monumental effort to catch back up. What do you think, is this effort sincere?
Image Credit: Original Honda EV Plus from the late 90's California EV mandate era courtesy of Honda