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.


Insight Into Honda’s Hybrid Future

By dancurranjr On December 6th, 2010

Honda reckons many motorists are put off hybrid cars because they view them as expensive and elitist. So it’s aiming to change that attitude with its new Insight, as Rob Maetzig reports.

It’s now been more than 10 years since Honda launched its first petrol-electric hybrid car to the world.

That car was called Insight, and it was a swoopy-looking little two-door car that achieved incredibly low fuel consumption. It never was made available for sale in this country, although Honda New Zealand did import one for evaluation and promotional purposes.

The aim behind that original Honda hybrid was clear: To avoid waste. Engineers reasoned that if energy generated from braking and deceleration could be harnessed and stored in a battery pack, it could then be used to power an electric motor that would supplement the performance of the car’s petrol engine.

That led to development of what is known as a parallel hybrid system, in which the petrol engine is the main source of power and torque, and is assisted sometimes by the electric motor.

Honda called its system Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), and it comprised a low-friction 1.3-litre engine as the primary power source, an ultra-thin electric motor, and a lightweight and compact battery pack, all mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission.
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This basic setup hasn’t changed much over the intervening 10 years, but it has been vastly improved as it been progressively introduced to other Honda vehicles, including the Civic hybrid we get in New Zealand.

Now another Honda hybrid has arrived – and appropriately it is called Insight. It’s an impressive new five-door hatchback that uses a modified version of the 1.3-litre engine from the Civic, and features a fifth-generation IMA system that is 24 per cent more compact than the fourth- generation version currently in the Civic.

Some real improvements have been made with this new IMA. The electric motor is now much thinner than before – 35.7mm compared to 61.5mm on the Civic – which helps make the entire system more compact and light.

Big improvements have also been made to the battery pack, which is 19 per cent smaller and 28 per cent lighter, which allows it to be stored under the floor of the Insight’s boot.

End result of all of this is a new hatchback that in every sense is just that – a hatchback. The compactness of the latest- generation IMA means so little storage space is required that the rear cargo room is 408 litres with all the seats in use, which is more than most other hatchbacks including the Toyota Corolla, and there is normal leg and headroom throughout.

Even the hybrid system works in a normal and unobtrusive way. On its own, the engine produces 65 kilowatts of power and 121 newton metres of torque, and when combined with the IMA this increases to 72 kW and 167 Nm.

All this is allowing Honda to market the new Insight not so much as a hybrid but as a hatchback, albeit one that has the technology to cost 40 per cent less to run than a conventional hatch.

Insight also carries a conventional price – which, Honda New Zealand claims, makes it the most affordable high-technology car on the market.

The base model S retails for $35,600 and more upmarket E for $38,800, which is not only almost lineball with conventional hatchbacks of a similar size, but way cheaper than the other hybrids currently on the market here, particularly the $42,000 Civic and the $48,500-$62,000 Toyota Prius.

This is all part of a grand plan by Honda, which discovered during recent overseas research that most motorists considered hybrids to be too expensive, and many others considered them to be elitist status symbols rather than efficient, cleaner modes of transport.

So the company set about changing that, embarking on a big effort to bring the price of the Insight down to much more acceptable levels.

It did it by using a large amount of existing componentry. For example the suspension, brakes and steering are pinched from the Honda Jazz. The engine compartment is also from the Jazz, and the engine and IMA system are modified versions of what is already aboard the Civic.

At a conference for New Zealand media in Queensland last week, special guest Yasunari Seki, the Insight’s project leader, said the aim of the development project was to reduce the size, complexity and price of components and systems in a big effort to drive the Insight’s final retail price downwards.

“Our engineers have shown great tenacity and skill in reducing the cost of the IMA system, which has allowed us to reduce the build costs of Insight,” he said.

Insight has been on the New Zealand new car scene for some weeks now, with potential customers taking the 40 demonstrators based at various dealerships for test drives. Interest has been such that as at last Thursday’s media conference 175 orders had been taken, and HNZ boss Graeme Seymour is confident things will settle to down to an average of more than 30 sales a month.

It’s an attractive car that looks more new-age than most other hatchbacks, with bodyshell lines that are reminiscent of the futuristic FX Clarity hydrogen- powered car that is now sold by Honda in some parts of the world.

But it’s pretty conventional all the same. The only real indications that the Insight is a hybrid are various features that are designed to “coach” the person behind the wheel to drive economically.

The primary such feature is a speedometer that glows green when the car is economically sipping petrol, and changes to blue when it is not.

It is a simple method of telling the driver how things are going, and far less intrusive than many of the other economy-encouraging systems aboard this car, including one that electronically grows leaves on trees during thousands of kilometres of being driven carefully, and rewards the driver by electronically presenting him or her with a trophy icon.

Research by Honda showed that different driving styles can cause variances in fuel economy by as much as 20 per cent. But the IMA aboard the Insight is capable of immediately getting back half of that via an ECON button that, when pushed, does such things as optimises gear ratios, engine revs and output by 4 per cent, controls air air conditioning and even keeps an eye on the cruise control, all in the interests of using less fuel.

Honda says the remaining half can be dealt to by subtly encouraging encouraging drivers to use more fuel-efficient driving techniques – and that’s what the coaching system is all about.

I recently drove an Insight more than 1800 kilometres during the AA Energywise Rally from Auckland to Wellington and back, and last week’s media event included a drive programme of another 250 km inland from the Gold Coast.

Both times I quickly discovered that rather than being anal about things and using every little guide to fuel economy available in this Insight, it was easier to simply hit the ECON button, keep the speedo colour green as much as possible, and take it from there.

Both times this allowed me to achieve an average fuel economy of 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres. In Aussie I also tried things out with the ECON off and the speedo coloured blue as often as possible – and the economy figure went out to 5.9 L/100 km.

And even that’s pretty good for a new Honda that to all intents and purposes is a conventional five- door hatch with excellent interior room and sound performance. The difference is that it will also reward careful driving but not severely punish the lead-footed stuff.


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 Looks Beyond Hybrids to Hydrogen Cars

By dancurranjr On July 7th, 2009

honda-crzOn paper, Michio Shinohara has few reasons to be cheerful. He works in the car business, the manufacturing sector hardest hit by the downturn. His company, Honda, halted production at its Swindon plant for four months this year and ditched plans for a sexy new NSX sports car. It pulled out of Formula One, only to see its driver, Jenson Button, win race after race for his new team, Brawn.

Yet on a muggy afternoon in Tokyo last month, Shinohara threw back his head and laughed: “It seems that we have been incredibly brilliant.”

The car he launched in February, the petrol-electric Insight, stole the title of best-selling hybrid in Japan from Toyota’s Prius and became Japan’s top-selling vehicle overall in April, the first time a hybrid had topped national sales rankings. More than 1,000 have been sold in Britain, and 5,000 across Europe.

The Insight is so popular that Shinohara, Honda’s head of environment planning, can’t get one himself. “The factory can’t make enough for the orders we already have.”

Petrolheads may mock the Insight’s basic interior and the anaemic performance of its small petrol and electric motors, but Shinohara’s creation is proving to be an ideal product for its time. It’s cheap and green, two qualities car buyers prize more than ever.

“We launched this vehicle at a very lucky time,” he said. “It was not important to us to have the car with top performance. We wanted an eco-friendly car that is accessible to the greatest number of people. Price is key.”

The Insight costs up to 18% less than the Prius, its main rival, and returns similar fuel economy of about 60mpg but the Prius has lower carbon emissions.

Shinohara’s excitement is matched by a sense of relief. The Insight is a car that simply had to work. Although Honda led the way with hybrids — it launched the first, also called Insight, in the late 1990s — it quickly fell behind Toyota. Gawky styling — it looked like an upside-down bathtub — killed the first Insight. A hybrid Accord followed but it failed to sell and was soon scrapped. The hybrid Civic has been a moderate success but Toyota has become the de facto green car brand, thanks to the Prius.

Buoyed by the success of the Insight, Shinohara is leading Honda’s new push into the hybrid market. Next will be a sports car, the CR-Z, due to go on sale next year. New hybrid versions of the Civic and the Jazz will follow.

In a decade, Honda expects to follow Toyota and become the second car company to have a hybrid version of all its models. On sales, however, Honda has fallen so far behind Toyota that it cannot hope to match its rival soon. It expects to sell 250,000 hybrids a year by 2015 and double that by 2020, more than 10% of its current total output. Toyota already sells 400,000 Priuses a year and that figure is expected to rise with the release of new models, including a plug-in version that will extend the car’s electric-only range.

Given the Insight’s success, you would expect Shinohara to be an evangelist for hybrid technology. He regards it, though, as a sticking plaster solution until someone — he hopes it will be him — perfects the hydrogen fuel cell car.

Honda is working up the technology in the FCX Clarity and as Shinohara drove the car around Tokyo, he explained why it, not the Insight, is the future.

Electricity in the Insight comes from a battery that is charged by “recycling” excess energy normally lost during driving, for example when braking. The battery powers an electric motor that works with the car’s 1.3 litre petrol engine, giving it a range of 500 miles.

Carmakers have experimented with vehicles powered entirely by battery but Shinohara said they were “not very customer-friendly” because their range is too short and the battery recharge time too long. A few years ago he tried to persuade Californian motorists to go fully electric with a prototype called the EV Plus, which had a range of about 100 miles. He could hardly give them away. “It was very difficult,” he said. Hydrogen fuel cells are, he believes, the best green car technology because they have the potential to offer the power and range of a conventional petrol engine with water as the only by-product.

The Clarity has several hundred fuel cells creating electricity from an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. It powers the engine. The 171-litre hydrogen tank gives it a range of 300 miles.

A conventional battery-powered car would require a battery weighing two tons to match the range and performance of the Clarity, and it would take hours to charge fully.

The Clarity is undergoing testing in Japan, Europe and America. A few have been released to customers in locations where there are hydrogen refuelling stations, notably California. The actress Jamie Lee Curtis drives one.

Shinohara admitted hydrogen technology is problematic. The Clarity is so expensive to make that it is, for now, sold at a colossal loss. Consumers are “scared” of hydrogen, he said, because it is explosive. It is, at present, expensive to produce and, most importantly, persuading energy companies and governments to construct a network of hydrogen refuelling stations will be a challenge.

Shinohara is undeterred. Honda is experimenting with installing domestic hydrogen stations at homes in California. Natural gas, supplied to the homes using existing pipelines, runs into a converter where it is separated into its various elements, one of which is hydrogen, which can be stored and used as necessary.

Shinohara’s dream is that one day soon motorists will fill the Clarity with hydrogen at home, drive to their remote country cabin emitting no carbon, use the car as a clean generator to power the house, and use the water and steam it produces to make a cappuccino. Truly a car for life.

SOURCE: Times Online

Road Test: 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid

By dancurranjr On March 24th, 2009

2009-honda-civic-hybridA little more than a year ago, Honda’s president and CEO, Takeo Fukui, said that 10% of the vehicles the company sells worldwide would be hybrid by 2010. Even to those who appreciate the drivetrain for what it is and what it can accomplish, this seemed a little ambitious. A week with the Civic Hybrid proved the goal may not be as pie-in-the-sky as it seems.

The Civic Hybrid uses Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The design teams a 1.3-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor. The gasoline side pushes 93 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor contributes another 20 hp and 76 lb-ft of torque. When the engine and motor are giving their all, the Hybrid boasts a net system output of 110 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. The latter arrives anywhere between 1,000 and 2,500 rpm. Yes, it does take all of 12.9 seconds to run from rest to 100 kilometres an hour, but the Hybrid feels so much faster — credit the torque characteristics and the car’s light 1,304-kilogram mass. The combination also has enough snap to pass a slower vehicle, and, on the highway, it hums along at the usual 120 km/h without missing a beat.

The beauty of the design is that while prowling suburbia there’s a certain smugness that comes from knowing that one is polluting the planet less than the car ahead. The fact the Hybrid delivers stellar fuel economy reinforces the clean notion. A week with the car returned an overall average of 5.2 L/100 km. This and the fact it consumes a diet of regular fuel means the pain at the pump is minimal.

The manner in which the Civic Hybrid drives feels a little different at first. To begin with, it takes a much larger stab at the gas to get the expected response, at least when compared with a regular Civic. Likewise, the fact all is quiet whenever the Hybrid comes to a halt (because of the idle stop feature) also makes it seem different. However, spend some time with the car and it all becomes second nature.

The power is fed to the P195/65R15 front tires through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). As is common, the CVT forces the engine to run at the top of the rev range under hard acceleration. The good news is that the sound it makes at wide-open throttle is not as shrill as most, which makes it less annoying.

The Hybrid’s handling is also a cut above the norm. The tendency is to think of green cars as being less sporty. The Civic managed to carve a corner while delivering a plush ride. The stiff body and suspension combine to deliver a flat attitude and less body roll than is typical of family sedans. Likewise, the response to steering input is quick, and this in spite of the tester’s winter tires.

The braking feel is, again, a little different. The need to capture otherwise waste energy through regenerative braking (to keep the main 158-volt battery charged) means the pedal feels a tad spongy. This is not a complaint as it is a common hybrid trait.

The Civic’s interior also takes a little getting used to, and it boils down to the split dashboard. The top half, which is viewed over the steering wheel, houses the digital speedometer along with the fuel and temperature gauges. The lower half, seen through the steering wheel, houses the tachometer, gear position, the warning lights and a gauge that shows whether the electric motor is helping to power the car or charge the battery. As with the driving experience, a little time with the design eased my initial concerns regarding the setup.

The rest of the cabin is typical Honda. The top-shelf materials are butted together with impeccable precision, and the seating, in all positions, is a cut above the class norm.

There’s also enough room for three adults to squeeze into the back seat without too much whining. The reason is the tunnel-less floor — it gives the middle rider somewhere to put his feet. The only outward compromise is found in the trunk. As the main battery sits behind the back seat, it reduces the cargo capacity to 10.4 cubic feet and precludes any sort of pass-through.

It takes a little time to fully appreciate the Civic Hybrid’s talents. It does feel different, but, as stated, time brings familiarity. The one thing that did not take time to warm up to was the fuel consumption — it took just $20.37 to top off the tank after the 461-kilometre road test. Sometimes, it is the simplest things in life that bring the greatest pleasure. With petroleum companies posting obscene profits in an economic climate that is seeing once-strong corporations suck wind, cruising past gas station after gas station brought a wry smile to my face.

SOURCE: National Post

Honda Civic for sale