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

Toyota Seeks a Short-Range Plug-In Hybrid for the Long Haul

By dancurranjr On October 16th, 2009

plug-in-hybrid-car-phevToyota Motor Corp. is on track to start testing the prototypes for its first crack at plug-in hybrid cars later this year, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

By Jan. 1, the company expects to release 500 plug-in versions of its Prius onto American, European and Japanese roads, said Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight. The cars will use lithium-ion batteries, not the nickel-metal hydride packages seen in Priuses today.

The pilot will kick off a three-year effort by the Japanese auto giant to get data on how these cars fare in the real world: how they’re charged, how their batteries perform, and what sort of mileage they get. In recent years, Toyota has resisted pressure to develop a plug-in, even using commercials suggesting that plugging in hybrid vehicles is a bother.

Engineers will use the new plug-in data to design a more widely produced plug-in version of the Prius, but they don’t intend to copycat other companies’ plug-in efforts, said Tom Stricker, director of the energy and environmental research group for Toyota North America.

The Chevrolet Volt, which General Motors Co. has slated for release late next year, would get a range of 40 miles on all-electric power before firing up its gasoline engine. GM says it based the range on statistics showing that 75 percent of American commutes are less than 40 miles.

Early forecasts are that Toyota will aim for an all-electric range of 10 to 15 miles instead.

Batteries are the most expensive part of any electric-drive vehicle, Stricker said, and Toyota has decided that a 40-mile range is too much.

Trying to keep GM in the rearview mirror

“That might not be the right number if it costs you $15,000 a battery and nobody buys it,” he said.

He pointed to research from Carnegie Mellon University suggesting that about half of U.S. miles driven are for trips shorter than 20 miles.

In its three-year pilot, Stricker said, Toyota will try to find a sweet spot — a balance between all-electric range and the pricey batteries needed to power it.

“The key question for plug-ins, from a design perspective, is how much of an electric range is really necessary, and what will that cost,” he said.

It’s not a bad strategy, according to Andrew Frank, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Davis, whose students once built a plug-in SUV with a 50-mile all-electric range.

Lithium, the main ingredient in the batteries, is hard to come by. So “for the amount of lithium available today, you can build three times more Priuses that are plug compatible than Chevy Volts, since the battery packs are one-third the size. And you make money by selling cars and not batteries!!” Frank said in an e-mail.

Frank said the more cars Toyota sells, the more the price of its batteries will fall, enabling it to make cheaper, longer-lasting cars.

An ‘oddly conservative’ strategy?

The shorter all-electric range for the Prius means that under some conditions, it would use more gasoline than the Volt.

“From an environmental perspective, the more [electric] range the better,” said Roland Hwang, transportation program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an e-mail.

He said Toyota’s strategy on plug-ins “seems at first oddly conservative,” and that the company risks “being seen as a technology and environmental laggard, and losing their current perceived pole position on environmentally friendly cars.”

Toyota currently leads the U.S. clean car market with the Prius, a regular hybrid that sold almost 160,000 models last year. Including its Camry and Highlander models, the company sold more than 240,000 hybrids.

Automakers remain unsure which clean-car technology will catch fire with the public — and through what channel. Major manufacturers are developing vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and biofuels, but costs remain high, thanks to technical hurdles.

Smaller companies such as Tesla and Fisker are angling for niche markets, with the eventual goal of reducing price and selling to the mass market.

Driving toward an uncertain market

Meanwhile, carmakers face uncertainty about future market conditions — namely, the price of gasoline and a possible price on carbon emissions.

Toyota is moving toward low-range plug-ins because they make it easier to promise low cost and durability from the get-go, said Bruce Belzowski, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.

“They’re just not convinced that they have the lithium-ion battery in the right spot to be able to do the things that GM says they wanted to do,” he said. “Toyota is much more conservative when it comes to this.”

The company knows it’s walking the tightrope of public reputation, Belzowski said. Past examples show that a single, high-profile failure can be enough to sink an entire line of cars.

That’s a lesson General Motors knows well — in the 1980s, its efforts to market diesel engines floundered thanks to performance flaws (ClimateWire, June 22).

Instead of going with a smaller all-electric range, Belzowski said, GM will simply sell fewer Volts, improving the defects from year to year. “They’re trying to manage the risk by not promising high volumes to start with,” he said.

SOURCE: New York Times