Honda’s Hybrid Future: 2012 Civic Leads New Direction for Company

By Jacob Brown | June 16, 2011
Honda beat Toyota to the U.S. market in selling hybrids by mere months with the December 1999 launch of the original Insight two-seater. Twelve years later, Toyota's Prius is ubiquitous but the same can’t be said for Honda hybrids. Honda is trying to change that with the recent launch of the redesigned 2012 Civic Hybrid, which uses technology the automaker plans to spread throughout its lineup within the next few years. Powered by a 17-kilowatt motor and a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the car yields 110 horsepower and 44 mpg city and highway — up from the 2011 model’s 40/43 mpg city/highway rating. The Civic Hybrid has lithium-ion batteries — a first for a Honda hybrid — instead of nickel-metal hydride. Honda is planning to use the technology, along with a two-motor setup for a plug-in hybrid, in midsize and large cars like the Accord. Currently testing the plug-in drivetrain in an Accord, the suitcase-sized battery pack allows for enough electricity to propel the car 10-15 miles without any gasoline.
While Honda sold an Accord Hybrid from 2005 to 2007, the car used its electric motors to bolster performance instead of maximize fuel economy. Also drawing criticism, Honda hybrids like the 2010 Insight and 2011 CR-Z compact sports coupe have failed to deliver the high mpg numbers many expect of hybrids. With the arrival of the new Civic, Honda hopes to amortize the cost of its new hybrid technology and bring down the cost to the consumer, which is $24,820 for a Civic Hybrid. Honda plans to increase hybrid sales from about five percent worldwide in 2009 to 10 percent by 2015. Through May, the Civic Hybrid’s first full month on showroom floors, Honda sold just 389 units. That low sales performance can be partially explained by the earthquake that struck Japan in March, limiting manufacturing resources. Once Honda recovers from the devastation, the automaker’s lithium-ion-powered cars and plug-in technology may help it gain a greater share in the hybrid segment it helped pioneer. Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)