Honda's 'Go Slow' Electric Car Initiative

By Bill Moore

Posted: 06 Oct 2009

As Yogi Berra used to say, "It's deja vu all over again."

Concerned about the impact California's emissions rules might have on its overall fleet rating and ultimately sales, Honda's President and Chief Executive Takanobu Ito revealed that his company is developing a battery electric car for the U.S. market.

The company faced a similar situation when the state implemented what became known as its Zero Emission Vehicle mandate in the 1990s. Honda responded by building some 300 EV Plus battery electric cars. Like the GM EV1, Honda designed the car from the ground-up, powering it with NiMH batteries that gave it a working range of 100 miles. Once the mandate was suspended because of lawsuits, Honda, like other carmakers effected by the law, terminated the leases and recalled all the cars, keeping a handful for use to develop its fuel cell technology. Those vehicles evolved into the FXC Clarity.

With the Obama Administration successfully fostering a compromise with carmakers, the U.S. EPA and states that implemented California's CO2 emissions rule, the auto industry is being challenged to improve the fuel economy of its cars and trucks, while also reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Electric cars offer one of the pathways to addressing both issues, but Honda's Ito says his company isn't rushing to introduce the vehicle, on which it has only just begun development.

Towards that end, Honda is introducing a small, electric car at the upcoming 2009 Tokyo Auto Show that is a retro-styled version of its 1970s era Honda 600. The tiny vehicle is only a concept and presumably, what Honda will introduce someday in North America, will more closely resemble the larger EV Plus in terms of size and passenger space. An adaptation of the Fit to electric would offer a starting point for such a vehicle

Ito underscored that the company remains focused on affordable hybrid technology as manifest in its newly introduced Insight sedan. Presumably, the cost savings realized in developing this car will likely finds its way into the future electric car. Since the definition for "electric car" can be broadly understood to range from plug-in hybrids to battery electric models, there is room for Honda to mate its world-leading small engine technology, portable generator systems and electric car expertise to offer a range-extended electric vehicle option, but this is pure speculation at this point.

So, the good news is Honda is applying its considerable knowledge to an EV Plus successor. The disappointment is, it's not interested in moving at flank speed.

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