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New York show: Honda creates Clarity series

Committed: Petrol in the US costs less per litre than bottled water, but that is not stopping Honda from expanding its electrified vehicle line-up in a bid to achieve its ambitious global sales targets.

Australia unmoved as Honda US unveils plug-in, full-EV versions of Clarity eco car

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Honda logo13 Apr 2017

By TERRY MARTIN

HONDA’S niche Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle has expanded into a “three-in-one” series with the unveiling overnight of higher-volume petrol-electric plug-in hybrid and battery-only variants, however its Australian subsidiary has no plans to introduce them here.

A pioneer of electrified cars in Australia, Honda not so long back boasted a broad line-up of hybrids including Jazz, Civic, Accord, Insight and CR-Z, but, apart from the $420,000 NSX supercar, no longer sells electric-boosted models in this market.

This remains at odds with the strategy of both its Japanese parent and American affiliate, which presented the two new variants of the Clarity mid-size sedan at the New York auto show this week as the latest step in achieving Honda’s ambitious target of two-thirds of its global automobile sales coming from electrified vehicles by 2030.

The fuel-cell version, around 100 of which are on the road in the United States, is still strictly a limited-volume proposition given the costs involved and lack of supporting infrastructure.

However, the Clarity series – as it is now known – is expected to contribute to an anticipated five-fold increase in Honda’s US sales of electrified vehicles over the next four years, with American Honda Motor Co targeting 75,000 Clarity sales over the first four model years.

Honda Australia group manager of public relations Neil McDonald told GoAuto today that the local subsidiary was concentrating on internal combustion engines “for the foreseeable future”, citing low customer take-up of hybrids and electric vehicles, range anxiety and lack of infrastructure and government incentives as the reasons behind its stance.

“That said, Clarity is a technological tour-de-force and provides strong green credentials but it would need a very persuasive business case to be sold here,” he said.

In revealing the new variants at the New York show, American Honda automobile division senior vice-president Jeff Conrad told journalists: “The Clarity series is the first of its kind, the very first car in the industry to offer fuel cell, battery electric and plug-in hybrid powertrains on a single vehicle platform.

“This three-in-one approach, as we call it, is aimed at accelerating the deployment of advanced electrified powertrain technology.

“In doing so, we’re bringing electrified vehicles further into the mainstream by providing choices that meet the diverse needs of customers interested in advanced technology vehicles.

“The Clarity series also heralds the advance of our ‘Honda electrification initiative’ representing our investment in the full spectrum of electric vehicle technologies.”

More new hybrids are on their way, in light-commercial vehicles as well as more passenger car lines, and Mr Conrad said Honda America would continue to bring them to market to help the company advance toward its global target – even if current levels of consumer demand in the US did not necessarily warrant it.

“This is a challenging target, especially here in our market where gas costs less than bottled water,” he said.

“Nonetheless, we believe it's critically important that we continue to make rapid progress in the deployment of next-generation vehicles and make these products the kind of vehicles that our customers want to drive.

“That’s the foundation on which we have built this new Clarity series, to provide customers a choice of electric powertrains to best meet their needs and to make electrified vehicles a true volume pillar for Honda.”

Reaching US showrooms later this year in two trim levels (standard and Touring), the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid uses a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine – output figures for which have not been provided – that combines with a 135kW/315Nm electric motor and 17kWh battery pack.

Honda claims the model has an all-electric driving range of 67.5km – billed as the longest of any mid-size plug-in hybrid on the market – while the overall driving range is rated in excess of 530km. Recharging time for the battery pack is listed at two-and-a-half hours using a 240-volt socket.

It has three selectable driving modes – Normal, Econ and Sport – while a fourth mode, HV, can be selected in conjunction with the other three “to maintain the battery’s state of charge”.

The Clarity Electric, meanwhile, is powered by a 120kW/300Nm electric motor, drawing power from a 25.5kWh battery pack and delivering an estimated driving range of 130km.

Honda says the vehicle – which will also launch later this year, though starting with a lease program in California and Oregon – can be fully charged in just over three hours on 240V, with an 80 per cent charge possible in 30 minutes using a DC fast-charge point.

It also uses the same three basic driving modes as the plug-in variant (Normal, Econ, Sport).

Styling-wise, the new Clarity variants are described as the “next progression” of Honda’s design ethos for electrified vehicles, with a ‘hero’ colour, unique frontal styling, different headlights and tail-lights, and its own 18-inch alloy wheel design.

All three Clarity models have a high standard specification, including a broad range of driver-assist technologies such as autonomous emergency braking, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control (with a low-speed follow system) and lane-keeping assist.

Pricing is still to be announced, but American Honda’s Connected and Environmental Business Development Office vice-president Steve Center said in New York that both the plug-in hybrid and electric models would start from about $US35,000 ($A46,130).

The Americans see the longer-range hybrid as holding the greatest sales volume potential, and hence will offer it in all 50 states across the country.

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