Wako, Japan: Honda Motor Co. said on Tuesday it would launch a plug-in hybrid and battery electric model in 2012 and mapped out other plans to put greener vehicles on the road as rivals catch up with more fuel-efficient cars.
Honda, Japan’s No.2 automaker, was one of the world’s only car makers to offer gasoline-electric cars during the past decade but has begun looking like a laggard without a “strong” hybrid or plans to mass-produce pure electric cars.
Honda lost a few years after deciding in late 2008 to drop the development of clean diesel engines to power its bigger cars, opting instead to come up with a new, more powerful hybrid system that could be mounted on its larger models.
Outlining a medium-term strategy, chief executive Takanobu Ito told a news conference that Honda was planning to sell a plug-in hybrid vehicle and a battery electric model in Japan and the US in 2012.
Honda also said it would launch a new small diesel model in Europe in 2012 as well as revamp its gasoline engine and transmission line-up to improve fuel efficiency of its fleet.
Many global competitors from Volkswagen AG to Hyundai Motor Co are preparing to launch “strong” hybrid models that are more fuel-efficient than Honda’s “mild” hybrids such as the Insight, while also readying battery-run cars in case the technology takes off.
Honda had so far only announced plans to sell a battery-run electric car in the US simply to meet legal requirements in California, arguing their batteries were too expensive to be practical. Honda has been a strong proponent of hydrogen fuel-cell cars as the best zero-emission alternative to today’s combustion engine cars, but their infrastructure hurdles are even bigger than for plug-in vehicles.
Toyota Motor Corp., also previously an electric car sceptic, changed its tune in May by tying up with California start-up Tesla Motors to develop electric cars, leaving Honda looking even more vulnerable.
Honda also announced plans to build a 500,000 unit motorcycle factory in Indonesia in the latter half of 2011 and said it was developing a new product to compete in China’s promising electric bicycle market.