2015 NAIAS: Honda Promises New Electric Car, Plug-in Hybrid by 2018, but Doesn’t Give Details

Like rival Japanese automaker Toyota, Honda has never been an eager fan of electric vehicles, preferring to focus on hydrogen fuel cell cars than plug-in battery electric vehicles.

Honda's previous all-electric model was the Fit EV -- a new future model could be similar in size and specification.

Honda’s previous all-electric model was the Fit EV — a new future model could be similar in size and specification.

At this week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit however, the world’s fifth largest automaker confirmed it intended to bring a brand-new electric car to market by 2018, alongside a new plug-in hybrid model.

Sadly as GreenCarReports details, Honda executives were unwilling to give further details.

“What we’re not sharing is anything else,” said Robert Bienefeld, Honda North America’s senior manager for environment and energy strategy during a roundtable session with the motoring press, but assured those present that the new vehicles would be built “to ensure Honda’s environmental vehicles remain strong competitors and provide a new sales-volume pillar.”

Honda is still heavily involved in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and we suspect a promised plug-in model would be a stop-gap measure.

Honda is still heavily involved in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and we suspect a promised plug-in model would be a stop-gap measure.

Deconstructing that statement, some may see it as proof that Honda, like some of its hydrogen-focused rivals, is starting to see the benefit to offering plug-in battery electric vehicles alongside its future hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

But given Honda still hasn’t revealed a production-ready hydrogen fuel cell vehicle yet — the hydrogen fuel cell car shown this year in Detroit is just the latest in a long-line of concept cars previewing a ‘potential’ future model — others may argue that Honda’s hydrogen fuel cell plan isn’t accelerating as quickly as perhaps it had hoped.

The fact that Honda’s most recent reveal — at the end of last year in Japan — was expected to be the production version of its 2016 Hydrogen fuel cell sedan just adds credence to that particular theory.

We’d suggest a third theory: that although Honda is most heavily invested in hydrogen fuel cells, it knows some degree of plug-in vehicles will be required to help it meet ever-stringent CARB and emissions requirements, especially given the relatively slow growth of hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

We're still awaiting Honda's first production fuel cell vehicle.

We’re still awaiting Honda’s first production fuel cell vehicle.

When it comes to the actual plug-in vehicles we can expect, we’d guess Honda’s all-electric model will most likely be a limited-range all-electric city car similar to the all-electric Fit EV. Produced between 2012 and 2014 in limited numbers as a compliance car, the Honda Fit EV was produced specifically to allow Honda to comply with tough California regulations concerning the sales of zero emission vehicles in state.

Despite pleas to keep the Honda Fit EV in production from fans and plug-in advocates, Honda abruptly ended production last year when it had produced the required number of vehicles under Californian law. Although it’s not necessarily the case, we feel it’s highly probable that the promised 2018 all-electric model will also be a limited-production vehicle, at least until Honda’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is being sold in high enough numbers to meet all ZEV requirements.

Given the rise in the plug-in hybrid SUV market, we’re also willing to predict that the future Honda plug-in hybrid model hinted at could be a plug-in hybrid version of its CR-V crossover, but at the current time we have no fact to back that prediction up — other than the belief it would be a logical step for an automaker focused more on hydrogen fuel cell cars than electric ones.

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