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What Honda’s hybrid strategy tells us about the global roadmap for EVs

Honda contends that its new electric-hybrid City will deliver a mileage of around 26 kilometres, which is better than the pure ICE cars. Pure ICE cars score over pure EVs on pricing and the handicap of infrastructural challenges.Premium
Honda contends that its new electric-hybrid City will deliver a mileage of around 26 kilometres, which is better than the pure ICE cars. Pure ICE cars score over pure EVs on pricing and the handicap of infrastructural challenges.

  • While its stated mission is to electrify over 60% of all cars it makes by 2030, it also maintains that it will continue to strengthen its work on developing battery-powered EVs, or in other words, cars that run on electric energy as well as fossil fuels, but in a hybrid system set up.

It's no secret that the automotive giant Honda has over the years built a legacy for its cars that hinge on solid engineering, enduring durability and cutting-edge technology. While its stated mission is to electrify over 60% of all cars it makes by 2030, it also maintains that it will continue to strengthen its work on developing battery-powered EVs, or in other words, cars that run on electric energy as well as fossil fuels, but in a hybrid system set up. Here in the subcontinent, the company has been generating top sales for cars that include the petrol and diesel sedan, the City. It hasn’t as yet toyed with the idea of launching a hybrid or electric car. 

Toyota has been retailing its hybrid, Camry, in India for a few years. Now, Honda has launched the City here in what it calls an electric hybrid format. Meaning that it is powered by both a regenerative braking motor as well as the traditional fossil-fuel engine that delivers alternating power to the car depending on the speeds in which it is being driven. Given that policy has been actively promoting and pushing electric cars, and that domestic giants such as Tata Motors have launched fully-electric cars like the Nexon, Honda’s roll out an insight into how a global heavyweight is reading the tea leaves.

For one, it’s well-known that the charging infrastructure for EVs is still very limited nationwide. Two, the majority of customers are more prone to ICE cars, or internal combustion engine cars, because of the overriding factor driving purchase decisions, which is the cost of vehicles. The third is that the data is yet to establish whether pure EVs will hold resale value and deliver expected fuel efficiency over the long term. New and emerging technologies often exhibit the “Apple syndrome" in which preliminary tech quickly makes way for newer refunds systems, rendering version 1.0 models outdated swiftly. And so, there’s no knowing as yet what EVs’ resale value might turn out to be even three or four years after purchase. 

Honda contends that its new electric-hybrid City will deliver a mileage of around 26 kilometres, which is better than the pure ICE cars. Pure ICE cars score over pure EVs on pricing and the handicap of infrastructural challenges.

Therefore, the launch says plenty about Honda’s strategy. Especially since Honda does make pure-play EVs worldwide – there’s the Fit EV-Plus, the Fit EV, and the Clarity Electric which has been around for a while now. Bringing those cars and their technologies to India may be more expensive and cumbersome at this point but isn’t undoable. And so, for a manufacturer to choose to not explore those possibilities suggests it sees demand for cars powered by alternate sources of energy in varied formats. That range may include EVs (at a later date), hybrids, E-hybrids, and so on.

The thinking seems to be leaning towards the view that transition in consumer products will come about gradually. Radical shifts may not be how EV sales will pick up. If that projection is correct, and the market does see EVs taking a while to win consumers, the hybrid alternative will be a transitioning technology. Then electric hybrids could command market share for at least the next decade or so. The caveat being that the true scale for the electric-hybrid engine-powered automobile will depend on whether other Asian manufacturers follow up Honda’s launch with their own similar plans and products.

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