Honda to Start Testing EVs, PHEVs in Japan

By dancurranjr On December 26th, 2010

Honda Motor Co Ltd announced Dec 20, 2010, that it will start field tests of its electric vehicle (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) in Japan.

On the same day, the company showed prototypes of an EV based on the Fit minicar and a PHEV based on the Inspire sedan.

Honda announced a prototype of the EV and the platform of the PHEV at the Los Angeles Motor Show, which took place in November 2010. And the vehicles announced this time were their new versions designed for the Japanese market.

“For expanding the use of EVs, the balance between price and performance is important,” Honda President Takanobu Ito said. “It is still difficult to achieve the balance. But there may be markets in specific regions such as rural areas where there is no service station.”

Honda will conduct the field tests in Saitama and Kumamoto prefectures in Japan. For each field test, five EVs and five PHEVs will be used. And the company will conduct similar field tests in Torrance, the US, by using three EVs and three PHEVs.

It is also planning to conduct field tests in Stamford, the US, by using the “EV-neo” electric two-wheeled vehicle and the “Monpal ML200” electric cart in addition to EVs and PHEVs.

“Though we have not determined a specific period of time for the tests, it will be about two years,” the company said.

In Saitama Prefecture, the vehicles will be tested in various areas depending on their characteristics. For example, in Saitama City, Honda will examine how the EV and the electric two-wheeled vehicle can be selectively used in the areas around train stations.

In Kumagaya City, Honda will test the “Park & Ride” system, which combines EVs, PHEVs and trains in the area around the Kagohara Station. In Chichibu City, the company will establish a system by using the Monpal.

This time, Honda also disclosed a charging station equipped with photovoltaic batteries developed by Honda Soltec Co Ltd. The station has a rapid charger manufactured by Kyuki Corp, a subsidiary of Kyushu Electric Power Co Inc, and three normal chargers manufactured by Nihon Unisys Ltd.

“Supposing that an EV travels 40km per day, we would like to supply electricity to four EVs by using only solar batteries,” Ito said.

As for charging technologies, Honda developed a system to monitor the use of chargers, etc in real time by using car navigation systems and smartphones. The system utilizes the company’s “Internavi Premium Club” telematics service, which uses a dedicated communication device equipped in the Fit.

Moreover, Honda mounted another communication device on vehicles to collect data on the use of automotive batteries.


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.


Tax Incentives for Hybrids, Other Greeen Cars Likely to End

By dancurranjr On December 14th, 2010

Save for a holiday miracle from outgoing U.S. lawmakers, a host of tax breaks for fuel-savvy car buyers will go away in less than a month.

But one group that won’t be shorted are electric car purchasers.

“Credits are expiring once and for all on a huge swath of new cars, unless there’s a successful lame-duck effort in Congress to extend them,” said Carroll Lachnit, features editor of

The online automotive resource said potential buyers should note the tax break situation when deciding whether to purchase a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle.

Hybrid, diesel and compressed natural gas vehicles purchased after Dec, 31, 2010 will no longer be eligible.

“But the tax credits for plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt and electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf are likely to remain in effect for several years,” Lachnit said.

Ron Montoya, features writer with, cautioned that, “Tax credits aren’t the only factor to consider, especially since buyers have to wait until spring to realize the savings,”

Meanwhile, dealers may boost prices for the most desired vehicles, which could cut into the tax savings, according to Edmunds.

For some models, buyers will realize better savings if they wait until ‘hot’ models cool off, said Montoya, citing the Honda Civic GX and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid as examples.

Dozens of new models have been eligible for the federal tax credits in the past three model years. They include:

  • The special Honda Civic GX sedan powered by Compressed Natural Gas, whose few would-be buyers could receive $4,000 credits at least if they purchase before the end of the year.
  • Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, which manufacture models that are eligible at least until Dec. 31 for a diesel credit. Tax breaks start at $575. The highest are $1,800 for the BMW X5 xDrive35d sport utility and for the Mercedes GL-Class320 BlueTEC sport utility.
  • The 2011 Nissan Leaf hatchback and the Tesla Roadster two-door convertible. Purchasers can apply for a $7,500 electric tax credits. Similarly, buyers of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt four-door hatchback can get a $7,500 plug-in hybrid credit.
  • Various car and truck models built by BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, GMC, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Saturn. They make hybrid models, and owners of new models can receive a hybrid credit at least until the end of 2010. The credit begins at $900. At the top end is a $2,350 credit for buyers of the Nissan Altima Hybrid sedan. notes that credits begin to phase out for a manufacturer’s vehicles once it sells a predetermined total.

In many cases, most notably with hybrid models from Ford, Honda and Toyota, the federal tax programs have already been phased out.

The credits can be used only by the original owner. If leasing a vehicle, the automaker may claim the credit and pass the savings on to the consumer, according to

The full list of vehicles eligible for the tax credit can be found online at Edmunds

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.


Honda Plugs-In On Way to Fuel Cells

By dancurranjr On December 2nd, 2010

Honda plans to begin selling an all-electric plug-in version of its Fit compact car in the United States and Japan in 2012.

The Fit EV will have a driving range of about 100 miles and a top speed of 90 miles per hour. It will have three driving modes — Sport, Normal and Econ — similar to those used in Honda’s CR-Z hybrid.

Honda said this car “hints strongly at the direction and styling” of a future Fit electric car. Apparently, it will look a lot like a regular gas-powered Honda Fit, assuming the giant lettering on the side won’t be a standard part of the package.

Honda also unveiled technology for a future plug-in hybrid car. Cars using the plug-in hybrid engineering would have a 10 to 15 mile all-electric driving range.