Two More Hybrids Coming from Honda

The CR-Z "concept" becomes real in 2010 in Japan and U.S.

by on Jul.13, 2009

HOnda CR-Z

The CR-Z will be exported to the U.S. and Europe after its Japanese introduction next year. It was first shown at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show,

Honda Motor Company this morning in Tokyo confirmed plans to begin sales of a CR-Z hybrid model in February 2010, with a hybrid version of the Fit following before the end of the year.

“We want to focus on how quickly we can widen our hybrid lineup,” said Honda President and Chief Executive Officer Takanobu Ito at a his first press conference since his appointment last month.

The CR-Z hybrid, first shown at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, will also be exported to the U.S. and Europe after the Japanese introduction. For fans of the late, lamented two-seat CR-X sporty car, the latest hybrid announcement means that it is likely a gasoline-powered version of the CR-Z is also imminent. Fit’s future outside of Japan is murkier.

The latest production plans are in keeping with an industry trend that has makers moving toward the electrification of the automobile, prompted by increasingly stringent emission or CO2 regulations, and government incentives. It is not clear at this time that buyers will follow in sufficient numbers, though, if the incentives are dropped.

Auto Insight Available

Auto Insight Available

However, Honda’s latest production hybrid, the Insight, is now selling well enough that the company is changing the capacity at its Suzuka Japan, factory where it is made.

Two assembly lines are now making the car instead of one.

In April, Insight was the best selling car in Japan, helped by government incentives. In May after its introduction, the Toyota Prius bumped it out of first place and held the lead in June.

The Insight is a five-passenger, five-door dedicated hybrid vehicle powered by a 1.3-liter “i-VTEC” gasoline engine and a 10-kilowatt electric motor that are linked through a continuously variable ratio transmission. The electric motor is between the engine and the transmission, and adds power during acceleration and in certain cruising situations. It also recaptures energy from the vehicle’s forward momentum during braking. It is a less sophisticated system than the one used in the Toyota Prius.

For all Insight three models sold in the U.S., EPA-estimated city/highway/combined fuel economy ratings of 40/43/41 miles per gallon are claimed based on the post-2008 EPA methods. The third-generation Toyota Prius has EPA estimated mileage of 50/49/50 mpg on the city/highway/combined scales.

CR-X replacement finally?

When it debuted, the CR-Z – for Compact Renaissance Zero – was billed as a research model for a lightweight “sports car.”  By announcing the hybrid version first, Honda signals how automotive marketing is changing to emphasize green models rather than sporty ones. CR-Z was the third in a series of CR-X replacement studies, following the Small Hybrid Sports shown at Geneva in 2007, and the Remix at Los Angeles in 2006.

Honda, like every other automaker, is chasing Toyota’s deserved reputation as the leader in hybrid technology. Honda, by combining these two new model announcements, with the currently on sale Insight and Civic Hybrids, is broadening its green-car lineup.

Globally, more than 1.3 million Toyota and 40,000 Lexus hybrid vehicles have been sold, compared to more than 300,000 Honda hybrids. Toyota commands a 75% share of the U.S. hybrid market since it established the segment a decade ago. And Honda still lacks hybrid powertrains in its Acura luxury cars or larger truck models.

No powertrain details for the new hybrids were released by Honda, other than that both of the new models will use Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology.

Honda did confirm, though, that it is working on a new hybrid system which is intended to be installed on mid- to large-size vehicles.

A recent survey by Johnson Controls found that 90% of U.S. adults are open to choosing a hybrid if they were in the market for a new vehicle. However, they also perceive major obstacles to such a purchase, notably cost.

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