Honda Stays Out of Plug-Ins. But Opts in For Diesels.

Posted by: David Kiley on January 14, 2008

It’s difficult to ignore. Honda is arguably the best engine company in the world. I can still recall how silky smooth that CVCC engine was in my brother’s 1977 Civic. That’s 30 years ago, and that engine could be sold today and be competitive.

But with General Motors and Toyota vying to beat one another to market with hybrid electric plug-in vehicles, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Honda CEO Takeo Fukui says he’s just not interested. Instead, says Fukui this week at the North American International Auto Show, the company is pushing ahead on fuel-cell electric vehicles, which he believes Honda will be able to offer consumers on some affordable basis in ten years.

“I do not really understand the idea of plug-ins,” says Fukui through an interpreter, almost seeming to be obtuse. But come on. He is being earnest. He knows how they work, of course. The lithium-ion battery takes you 8 or 10, or 20 or 40 miles on an electric charge. When the juice runs out, a gas engine kicks on and powers the battery, not unlike plugging a laptop in when the battery runs down. When it is recharged, you can go back on battery power. Or, if you don’t exhaust the battery in a day, plug the car into the garage outlet overnight when electricity is cheaper.

Fukui simply doesn’t buy the fact that plug-ins are a good investment. But his vision for fuel cells seems more than ten years away. Instead of hoping for hydrogen infrastructure to develop, he says Honda is working on home refueling systems. I recall that Honda pursued this with its Natural Gas Civics, selling natural gas pump kits for garages. Few took the kit.

I am hoping for plug-ins to be reality because it seems like technology that would catch on much faster than recharging fuel cells at home. But Honda is a company, after all, that sells power generators. It knows about batteries, and it was an engine company before it was a car and cycle company. It’s difficult to believe Fukui doesn’t know something.

Fukui also said that Honda will introduce a clean diesel to its Acura line in 2010. It’s about time. With Honda getting into the diesel business, as well as Toyota, maybe diesel doubters will come to embrace clean diesel as a significant improvement over regular gas engines for big cars, SUVs and trucks.

Reader Comments

Noz

January 14, 2008 12:26 PM

I side with Mr. Fukui on this issue. The stop-gap plug-in may make limited sense--for commuter cars, perhaps. But back again to the primary source of their electrical power. If coal-fired, it is a huge loser however invisible to most consumers. And then I fail to understand how a little putt-putt engine can charge a battery and power a car in any reasonable manner. This defies logic, let alone physics.

A step up to practical, adequately powerful, and clean diesels is practical and coming soon to your local HONDA dealership. With time, hydrogen may work out both the HONDA way (home generators) and more universally.

That Europeans are so far ahead of Americans in terms of diesel and its use is just another black eye for us thanks largely to the fading Big Three not to mention the shameful role of the 'car media' in the formation/reinforcement of their mindless promotion of aggressive/irresponsible driving on the part of a considerable segment of our population.

Tony Belding

January 15, 2008 1:11 PM

"It’s difficult to believe Fukui doesn’t know something."

Fukui doesn't know something. Honda, I believe, is going to be left in the dust when plug-in cars take off.

From where I sit, the idea that doesn't make a lot of sense is the conventional non-plug-in hybrid. You don't get the main benefits of a hybrid power train until you start running your car at least partially from grid power.

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