Honda Planning a Major Jump in Hybrid Sales in Japan in 2011

By dancurranjr On December 20th, 2010

Honda will put pedal to the metal in Japan next year when a new and bigger range of hybrid models will land on the market.

Joining the CR-Z and Fit Hybrid on the scene will be a hybridized version of the Freed, Honda’s quirky small domestic van. Honda will also introduce a stretched wagon version of the Fit hybrid for domestic consumption, according to sources. The front half of the body will be stock, but overall length will stretch by more than 2 feet.

The Fit hybrid wagon is expected out in March, while the Freed hybrid will arrive later, around fall 2011.

The redesigned Civic Hybrid, to be unveiled in January at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show and tipped to be the first Honda hybrid to get a lithium-ion battery pack, will be another 2011 debut, but Japan, in fact, might not get it.

Having announced the end of Civic sales in Japan and with that longer Fit hybrid wagon in the wings, Honda may feel that it doesn’t need the new Civic Hybrid in Japan anymore, not even as an iconic stand-alone model.

Honda will also have the Insight to fall back on, of course, and the good news there is that that to-date lackluster model is due for a major revamp next July.

Toyota will counter with a hybrid version of the new Vitz (Yaris) and Mazda is promising a face-lifted Mazda 2 with the automaker’s new Skyactiv G gas engine that can achieve hybrid-type economy without the weight and complexity of battery and motor.

Add it up and, although the technology is light and compact, Honda’s IMA hybrids have yet to truly catch on and/or frighten Toyota, the market leader. So will 2011 at last be the turning point for Honda?

Inside Line says: The new Honda hybrids could be big in Japan where the word “hybrid” is a major come-on, but in the U.S., given the inevitable price premium for the technology, such small gasoline-electric models could be a harder sell.


One in Five Honda Sales In Japan Will Be Hybrids by 2011

By dancurranjr On November 30th, 2010

Honda plans for hybrids to account for about 23 percent of its Japanese sales in fiscal year 2011, according to a report from Japan’s Nikkei over the weekend. The new target represents an increase to nearly 150,000 annual domestic hybrid sales—supported by the introduction of a new hybrid gas-electric wagon, based on the Honda Fit, and the company’s first hybrid minivan.

Honda debuted its new two-motor hybrid system for mid-size cars, at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Honda appears determined to reclaim its leading position on hybrids by introducing these new models—and developing a full range of electric-drive technology including full hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars. At the recent 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, the company announced its intentions to produce an all-electric Fit, as well as a two-motor hybrid system with plug-in capability, both by 2012.

Honda’s current hybrid system, known as Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), is considered a mild hybrid with limited capability to directly power the wheels. Most analysts believe Honda’s reliance on IMA has limited its ability to fully enter the market for competitive hybrids and electric cars. Honda’s new technology and models, and its aggressive sales targets for Japan, reveal a more comprehensive vehicle electrification strategy. “We have an IMA system for our smaller cars, the Insight, the CR-Z, and the Civic [Hybrid], and this new [plug-in] platform, which we’ll be able to utilize on larger vehicles,” said William Walton, manager of product planning at Honda.

In February, Reuters reported that Honda is developing a hybrid system suitable for larger cars such as the Odyssey minivan the Pilot sports utility vehicle. At that time, Tomohiko Kawanabe, Honda’s chief operating officer for automobile research and development, said, “We’ve left the research stage and entered the field of development.” He said these vehicles could hit the U.S. market around 2013.
Honda Freed minivan

Honda will introduce a hybrid version of its Freed small minivan in Japan in late 2011. While there’s no sign that the Freed hybrid or Honda Fit Hybrid are coming to the U.S., the company is expanding its hybrid technology for greater compatibility with larger vehicles.

Honda launched the Fit Hybrid in Japan last month—at a price below all other available hybrids—but it’s uncertain if it will be sold in the United States. A wagon version of the Fit Hybrid, roughly 20 inches longer than the standard Fit platform, will be launched in March 2011. Later in the year, Honda plans to introduce a hybrid version of the Freed small minivan. At that point, Honda will have five hybrids on the market in Japan. The company is expecting to discontinue domestic sales of the Civic Hybrid.

Honda Goes Back to the Future

The new Honda two-motor system opens the possibility for full hybrids (with or without a plug), but so far Honda is only talking in general terms about a mid-size plug-in hybrid and the Fit EV. “Plug-in hybrid technology is a bridge technology leading us to ultimately CO2-free vehicles,” Walton said. The Honda two-motor system continuously shifts between three different modes to maximize efficiency: all-electric, gasoline-electric and a “engine direct-drive mode,” in which only the engine drives the wheels during high-speed driving.

The plug-in hybrid uses a 6 kWh lithium-ion battery, a 120 kW electric motor, and a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with a Continuously Variable Transmission (E-CVT). The all-electric mode achieves a range of approximately 10-15 miles in city driving and a top all-electric speed of 62 miles per hour. Fully recharging the battery will take 2 to 2.5 hours using a 120-volt outlet and 1 to 1.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet.

Japanese subsidies for fuel-efficient cars, as well as high gas prices, have invigorated domestic hybrid sales and have helped make the Toyota Prius the top-selling car in Japan for nearly two years. In 2009, hybrid sales in Japan surpassed the United States to become the largest hybrid market in the world—despite Japan selling about one-third as many total vehicles per year.

Source: Hybrid Cars

Honda’s CR-Z Joins U.S. Hybrid Derby

By dancurranjr On March 13th, 2010

Honda Motor Co.’s new CR-Z sporty hybrid is the car that nearly wasn’t.

The wedge-shaped, two-seat hatchback was almost killed twice because engineers weren’t convinced it was a unique concept and because U.S. bosses originally didn’t want it.

When Norio Tomobe was appointed chief engineer of the project in the summer of 2004, the car was still a blank sheet. And in the early years, the working model had a traditional gasoline engine.

“We had serious doubts about whether this would bring new value,” Tomobe said during a recent interview at Honda’s headquarters here. “I really struggled for a new idea, and we decided to start over from scratch. The hybrid finally gave us the wow factor.”

Yet going hybrid brought its own problems. Today critics assail the CR-Z as neither especially fuel-efficient nor sporty. And Tomobe is quick to admit at least one thing he wishes the CR-Z had: “more horsepower.”

He said he would like a Type R sporty version of the CR-Z someday with a spunkier power-to-weight ratio that lives up to its sporty styling.

Compromise solution

But in the meantime, the CR-Z is an exercise in compromise. It was conceived as a 1.3-liter car for Europe but was given a 1.5-liter engine to appeal to U.S. drivers. It aims to be sporty with a six-speed stick-shift option but also comes in a version with continuously variable transmission to squeeze out extra fuel economy.

The result: a 122-hp package that delivers a 0-to-62-mph time that, at 9.7 seconds, barely edges the Toyota Prius. And fuel economy is only 36/38 mpg, well below the Prius’ 51/48.

The 0-62 time comes from a leaked early edition of the Japanese sales catalog. Honda has dropped all references to it. Indeed, Honda conspicuously omits a 0-60 speed for a car that it touts as sporty.

The CR-Z went on sale in Japan in February and reaches U.S. showrooms this summer.

Honda plans to sell 40,000 to 50,000 CR-Zs a year worldwide, 15,000 in North America. Japan sales are projected at 12,000 a year, and Europe will get the rest.

Tetsuo Iwamura, president of American Honda Motor Co., was skeptical right up until he drove the final prototype.

“He kept saying they don’t need a hybrid,” recalled Tomobe.

“In the American market, people equate hybrids with the Prius,” he said of Iwamura’s cool response. “If the hybrid is sporty, it’s going to confuse the customers and dealers.”

The CR-Z’s fate was put before Takanobu Ito, now president of Honda Motor but then head of r&d. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about the States, just keep developing it,’ ” Tomobe said.

While driving early prototypes, Iwamura relentlessly derided the car, Tomobe said. But when he got behind the wheel of the final version, his reaction changed.

Suddenly, the project was a go.

“It’s ironic that the United States was the most vocal in saying they didn’t want the car, but the CR-Z still made its world debut at the Detroit motor show,” Tomobe said.

Tomobe, who cut his teeth as chief engineer on Japanese market projects such as the Mobilio Spike and Elysion minivans, is unapologetic about the CR-Z’s compromises.

“I’m satisfied,” he said. “This is what the future of sports cars will be for Honda. We are not pursuing absolute maximum speed. What we aim for is a car that is exhilarating to drive.”

On paper, the CR-Z’s power may seem lackluster. But sporty handling makes up for it, Tomobe said. The three-mode drive system helps by delivering extra throttle responsiveness.

Drivers can select normal, economy or sporty driving modes. In sporty mode, drivers of the CVT can simulate stepped shifting manually by flipping paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The CR-Z borrows liberally from its hybrid forerunner, the Insight, which came out last year. It has the same engine room, front flooring, fuel tank and hybrid system. The motor, battery and inverter essentially are the same as the Insight’s, Tomobe said.

Room for improvement

Not only is its engine larger than the Insight’s 1.3-liter, but the CR-Z’s engine has 16 valves instead of the Insight’s eight. This is to help increase power at higher rpm and improve efficiency at lower speeds.

Up to 2,300 rpm, one intake valve per cylinder is closed to limit fuel consumption. Above that, all four valves are working to optimize power.

The CR-Z is also the first Honda hybrid to get a six-speed manual transmission.

Honda already is eyeing improvements. By boosting the storage capacity of the battery and making the motor and inverter smaller and lighter, future generations of the CR-Z should deliver better performance.

Said Tomobe: “There is room for further evolution.”

Critics say Honda could score by offering a gasoline-only CR-Z. But Tomobe said the company has ruled that out. The car’s identity is too closely linked to being a hybrid, he said.

But a Type R racing incarnation is another story. “If that appeals to people and contributes to Honda’s sporty image, we need to consider all options,” Tomobe said, adding that he would like to see an R.

That would require reworking the power-to-weight ratio and boosting the maximum speed. Tomobe said that is still a tall order for the current CR-Z and its eco-friendly mission.

Said Tomobe: “The CR-Z is supposed to be an intelligent sports car.”

SOURCE: Autoweek

Used Hondas at

Details of Honda CR-Z Hybrid Leaked

By dancurranjr On December 13th, 2009

Honda CRZ HybridKeeping secrets in the internet age is a daunting task when photos and written material can be uploaded to the internet at the speed of light. That’s what happened to Honda yesterday when someone fed a purloined copy of the sales brochure for the new CR-Z hybrid sports coupe into a scanner and then put the results out on the web.

The brochure reveals some of the specifications for this much anticipated new model. The car will have a 1.5 liter V-TEC engine rated at 114 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque and an electric motor providing an additional 13 horsepower and 57 ft-lbs of torque. Both a CVT (continuously varialbe transmission) and a 6 speed manual transmission will be offered. 0 – 60 time is said to be 9.7 seconds.

While those performance numbers are not startling, the package that Honda has created certainly is. For the moment, it ranks as one of the sleekest, sexiest hybrids ever seen. The upgraded aero package from Mugen, Honda’s performance division, shown below, is especially tasty. The CVT will offer Normal, Eco and Sportt modes, but I’ll still take the 6 speed manual in mine, please!

The CR-Z is expected to be in showrooms by late Spring.


Honda CR-Z and Fit Hybrid Planned for 2010

By dancurranjr On August 8th, 2009

honda-crzThe Honda CR-Z, when it first appeared at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007 as a concept car, caused quite a stir, both good and bad.

Readers were reminded of the Honda CRX of the 1980s and the fond memories it evoked. At the same time, few admired the styling, especially the big-mouth front end.

On Monday, Honda announced that the CR-Z would move from concept to reality and that it would go on sale in the United States next year.

It will be a gas-electric hybrid, using the current Integrated Motor Assist that is found in the new Insight and Civic Hybrid. Honda said it was also working on a new hybrid system for midsize and large cars.

Details were still sketchy, but according to a news release, sales of the CR-Z will start in Japan in February 2010. The Fit Hybrid will be available in Japan by the end of 2010. While Honda has not announced the availability of the Fit Hybrid outside of Japan, the CR-Z has its own American micro site, where consumers can register for e-mail updates.

Honda said the letters CR-Z stand for Compact Renaissance Zero. Many people will think of the Honda CRX, which continues to be one of the more beloved cars from the 1980s.

SOURCE: New York Times

Honda Fit for sale