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Honda takes co-operative route to green future

Clear now: Honda’s next-generation Clarity is set to share its hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain with General Motors’ similar offering.

Deals with GM, Hitachi put Honda on road to mass-produced fuel-cell and EV cars

Honda logo9 Feb 2017

HONDA has signalled its intention of ramping up its alternative energy vehicle efforts by signing two new joint ventures, one with General Motors for a hydrogen fuel cell factory in the United States and the other with Hitachi for electric motors to be made in Japan, China and the US.

The joint ventures will be key to the Japanese motor manufacturer’s drive to generate two thirds of all its sales from electrified vehicles by 2030.

The fuel cell factory – the first of its type in the world – is scheduled to open in about 2020 within GM’s current battery pack factory near Detroit, building next-generation hydrogen-powered automotive propulsion units jointly developed by Honda and GM.

The two companies have been working together for three years since deciding in 2013 to pool their intellectual property to create more affordable fuel cells and hydrogen storage systems for mass production.

Between them, Honda and GM own 2220 patents on fuel-cell technology that will be put to good use in the new-age fuel cell systems to be built by the joint venture, Fuel Cell System Manufacturing.

Currently, Honda sells limited numbers of Clarity hydrogen fuel cell cars in California where a new-generation model was launched through a seven-dealership network in December last year, effectively replacing the original experimental Clarity sold between 2008 and 2014.

This year, however, Honda plans to expand Clarity’s sales reach with plug-in hybrid and all-electric versions, available across all US states.

It also is planning a new dedicated hybrid model to be made in the US by 2018 under its electrification push, dubbed Honda Electrification Initiative, that calls for two-thirds of all sales to come from electrified models by 2030.

These extra variants explain Honda’s push into electric motor manufacturing with Hitachi Automotive Systems under a joint venture arrangement announced this week.

Based in Japan, the unnamed joint venture will be formally created on July 1, but manufacturing start up timing remains under wraps.

Announcing the JV, Honda said the collaboration was designed to “generate technological synergy and economies of scale that will strengthen competitive advantage and business foundation for the motors at the core of an electric vehicle system”.

It confirmed that once the JV was created in Japan, subsidiaries would be established in China and the US to manufacture and sell electric motors in those markets.

The latter indicates Honda and Hitachi are planning to pitch their new motors to other manufacturers.

Hitachi has been making electric vehicle motors since 1999 – the same year that Honda launched its first hybrid car, the Insight.

Before that, Honda conducted extensive electric motor research for its World Solar Challenge-winning Dream racers that employed rare-earth magnet, in-wheel motors to blitz the field in the Darwin-Adelaide race in 1993 and 1996.

Currently, Honda Australia sells only one electrified vehicle, NSX hybrid sportscar, after trying other hybrid models, including Insight, Civic Hybrid, Accord Hybrid and Jazz Hybrid.

It is unclear if the new-generation electric and hydrogen fuel-cell cars will make it to Australia beyond 2020.

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