Honda, one of the auto industry’s largest supporters of compressed natural-gas vehicles, has announced that it will be ending production of its CNG Honda Civic and Civic Hybrid variants after more than 15 years of production for the U.S. market, choosing instead to focus on a new line up of high-volume vehicles which it says will be far more popular with the average buyer.
In addition, the Japanese automaker has announced the end of production for another low-volume eco-friendly car in its lineup: plug-in hybrid variant of its 2015 Accord sedan. Both models have already ceased production, ahead of the launch of the next-generation 2016 Honda Civic and next-generation 2016 Honda Accord Hybrid , which are expected to debut in Q3 2015 and early 2016 respectively.
Announced via an official statement made yesterday, John Mendel, Executive Vice President, Automobile Division of American Honda Motor Co., Inc, said that all models have experienced low sales volume of late, and thus it was a logical step to cease production of both models to make way for newer models due in the next few years.
These will include Honda’s upcoming hydrogen fuel cell sedan — due some time next year — and both a new plug-in electric hybrid vehicle and all-electric model.
“We are developing an entirely new generation of vehicles starting from the introduction in 2016 of our next-generation fuel cell vehicle,” Mendel said. “This will be followed by an all-new battery electric model and the all-new plug-in hybrid model.”
In each case, Mendel confirmed, the vehicles would be designed from the ground-up for their respective powertrains and be given unique model names. This hints that Honda is following the route trodden by Nissan, BMW, GM and Toyota, all of which prefer to design alternative-fuelled vehicles as unique models rather than conversions of existing vehicles.
We are developing an entirely new generation of vehicles starting from the introduction in 2016 of our next-generation fuel cell vehicle. This will be followed by an all-new battery electric model and the all-new plug-in hybrid model.John Mendel Executive Vice President, Automobile Division American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
The largest volume of Honda’s three axed models, the Honda Civic Hybrid has been available since 2001, offering customers Honda’s Integrated Motors Assist (IMA) mild-hybrid drivetrain consisting of a 1.3 litre 4-cylinder gasoline engine mated to a 15 kilowatt electric motor and small 871 watt-hour nickel-metal hydride battery pack which operated in concert with the gasoline engine to yield an EPA-approved fuel economy of 40 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway.
That’s far less than the 50 mpg combined fuel economy of its nearest rival, the Toyota Prius lift back, which also has the capability to operate in some markets in all-electric mode for distances of up to one mile. The Civic Hybrid meanwhile, offers no EV-only mode, and only enters fully electric operation when causing on a flat surface at speeds of between 15 and 20 miles per hour.
Of its now deprecated CNG Civic, Mendel said that the car has served its purpose for the past fifteen years, helping customers in states like California to drive an internal combustion vehicle with far lower tailpipe emissions than comparable gasoline vehicles. In fact, Honda’s Civic CNG Sedan was considered by California’s Air Resources Board to be so environmentally friendly when compared to a hybrid or gasoline vehicle that anyone owning one is eligible for the unlimited-in number white HOV-lane access sticker that grant single-person occupancy to California’s miles of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.
Despite the perks however, Honda has struggled to convince buyers behind the wheel, especially given the large and varied choice of electric vehicles on the market today — all of which share the same HOV-lane perk yet cost far less to operate. Further still, CNG infrastructure hasn’t caught on as much as Honda had once hoped.
“Honda has promoted CNG-powered vehicles for many years. For most of the past 15 years we have been the only automaker with a dedicated CNG vehicle,” said Mendel. “Despite this commitment, the infrastructure for natural gas refuelling and consumer demand remains a challenge. Production of the Civic Natural Gas model has been completed at our Indiana plant, but we will continue to provide a high level of service to our existing customers through CNG-certified Honda dealers.”
In the case of the Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid — considered by most industry insiders to be something of a compliance car — Honda sold just 5 Accord plug-in hybrids during the month of May in the entire U.S., with the car’s limited all-electric range and mediocre fuel economy losing out to better-equipped, more affordable models. As the fastidious record keeping of our friends at GreenCarReports details, since the Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid launched in 2013, only 1,030 cars have been sold.
Here at Transport Evolved, we can’t say we’re surprised to hear of the official end of production for either the CNG Civic or Plug-in Accord models, especially given Honda’s very vocal support of hydrogen fuel cell technology. It also makes sense to axe the Honda Civic Hybrid given the relatively low fuel economy it achieves when compared to other cars in the same class and Toyota’s new, upcoming fourth-generation Prius — which is expected to exceed 55 mpg in everyday use.
While we’re not surprised at the end of production for any of the there models though, we are surprised — and glad — to see Honda lay out a future path that embraces plug-in hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles together. Unlike Toyota — which is focused heavily on hydrogen fuel cell cars — this should give Honda a stronger, and more resilient place in the market moving forward.
More importantly for plug-in fans, it also means that the highly-popular Honda Fit EV — which Honda stubbornly ceased production of when it reached the exact number of cars it needed to sell in order to comply with California’s ZEV mandate — won’t be the last all-electric car from Honda after all.
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