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Honda confirms next hybrid for 2009

Preview: Next-generation Honda hybrid should be styled similar to the FCX Clarity.

Honda reveals its all-new hybrid hatch is just eight months away from US sales

25 Aug 2008

HONDA has announced that its all-new five-door hybrid car will go on sale in the United States in April 2009 and Honda Australia has confirmed that it is keen to get hold of the company’s first real challenger to the Toyota Prius.

A Honda insider has flagged a major hybrid announcement for the Paris motor show in October, so don’t be surprised if the new petrol-electric car is unveiled in the French capital.

Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley told GoAuto that the new, un-named hybrid is high on his agenda and that the local arm would follow the lead of its global parent by increasing the number of both hybrid and diesel-powered models in the coming years.

“That’s our local direction, but the timing is really dependant on the ability of Honda Motor to supply to its priority markets – North America, Europe and Japan,” said Mr Smalley.

“This shift towards more fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles has been on Honda’s agenda for 30 years and we’re on that path.

“Clearly, it’s the overall global direction of the company and we’re a part of global Honda, so eventually we will get those types of models. It’s just a matter of time and priority and production.

“Honda is building a new factory in Japan and that will be coming on line in about seven or eight months, and that should free up that type of product.” Mr Smalley noted that Honda Australia managing director and CEO Yasuhide Mizuno has “great contacts” and “will be lobbying very heavily for that to come”.

He said that the new five-seater has greater volume potential and would be priced below the current Civic hybrid sedan, which, despite being slightly more expensive in the US, enjoys a $4410 advantage over the Prius in Australia ($32,990 versus $37,400).

15 center imageLeft: Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley.

“If it comes in, it needs to clearly sit around that sub-Civic range,” said Mr Smalley. “Within that context, you could probably sell lots and lots, if you can get supply.” Honda plans to build 200,000 units a year in Japan – four times the production volume of the Civic hybrid – and the executive vice-president of American Honda, Dick Colliver, said last week when announcing the April on-sale date that 100,000 will be imported into North America (where the regular Civic is the third-highest selling car, behind the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord).

Honda believes that one of the reasons for the global success of the Prius is because it is a stand-alone model, not just a hybrid-powered version of a regular car like the Civic, so environmentally-conscious drivers can deliver a clear green message.

“For consumers who are interested in fuel economy and the environment, having a specific individual product is important to them,” said Mr Colliver.

Although Honda has released few details about its new compact hybrid – which is believed to be styled after the sleek FCX Clarity hydrogen car that is in limited production – Mr Colliver confirmed that it will be smaller, lighter and priced below the Civic hybrid, but will still have five doors and five seats.

Honda Motor Co executive chief engineer Kenzo Suzuki told GoAuto earlier this year that making the new hybrid car cheaper would be made possible by reducing the use of rare metals, simplifying the total systems as well as the electronics, and through the additional volume lowering unit cost.

However, it will still use conventional nickel-metal hydride batteries, like all existing hybrid vehicles around the world, rather than the much smaller and lighter lithium-ion batteries that are widely expected to be ready to market as soon as 2010.

But Honda believes that the car industry still has to resolve some safety hurdles with lithium-ion batteries, let alone cost barriers, and hopes this is achieved so that Honda can expand its line-up of small and light hybrid models in the future, including a Jazz hybrid by 2015.

“We need to work on the technology,” Mr Suzuki told us. “The batteries need to be improved a lot.”

Read more:

Clarity hits the road

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