Tokyo: Honda will sell a new, improved and affordable gas-electric hybrid in the U.S., Japan and Europe starting in early 2009, underlining the Japanese automaker’s commitment to “green” technology,according to the company president.
The new model to be sold solely as a hybrid, and not as a traditional, gasoline-powered car is a key part of Honda Motor Co.’s strategy for the next three years that president Takeo Fukui outlined at Tokyo headquarters.
Production innovations and expansion plans
The plan also included production innovations and expansion in Japan to cut costs so Honda can stay competitive amid soaring material and energy costs, he said.
In addition to the new hybrid, Honda will introduce several other hybrids: a Civic, a new sporty model based on the CR-Z and a Fit subcompact, sold as the Jazz in Europe, Fukui said.
“Hybrids have drawn attention for their image, but time has come to go to the next step,” he said, stressing that Honda was serious about selling hybrids in numbers. Fukui refused to give the price for the new vehicle, which would be offered solely as a hybrid.
But he said the difference between hybrids and their comparable standard models should be kept within $1,900, although such price gaps can now reach as much as $4,800. “The 200,000 yen difference is a must,” he added.
Specifications of the new hybrid
The new hybrid’s name was not yet disclosed. It will be a five-door sedan seating five passengers, and feature new technology that reduced the size and weight of the hybrid system to increase fuel efficiency, according to Honda, Japan’s second-biggest automaker.
Although Honda already has developed hybrids, it has fallen behind Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp. in this segment. Last year, Honda discontinued the gas-and-electric version of its Accord sedan, sold only in North America,which sold just 25,000 units since going on sale in 2004. In 2006, it pulled the plug on the slow-selling Insight hybrid.
Over the past decade, Toyota has sold more than a million Prius gas-electric hybrid cars worldwide. When including other hybrid models, cumulative overall sales of gas-electric vehicles total 1.46 million, according to Toyota, which also makes the Camry sedan and Lexus luxury cars.
Honda has sold more than 262,000 hybrid vehicles worldwide since it started selling them in 1999. Hybrids deliver a cleaner, more efficient ride by switching between a gas engine and an electric motor at different speeds, and by recycling the energy the car produces as it moves.
Honda has also confirmed that it will sell 500,000 hybrids a year, after 2010, which is half the number that Toyota has already announced it seeks to sell a year by the same time period. At the end of this year, the production line for the hybrid motor will be raised to 250,000 units annual capacity from the current 70,000, Honda said.
Environmental concerns factored in
Honda said it’s also pushing its fuel-cell technology to ease environmental concerns. A fuel cell vehicle has no emissions because it runs on the power created when hydrogen, stored as fuel in the vehicle, combines with oxygen in the air to emit water.