Honda is a favourite brand of many enthusiast drivers. No one can argue their technology isn’t state of the art — in gas-powered engines. Until now, however, corporate visionaries had not set any goals to the fastest-moving two areas of automotive engineering: EVs (electric vehicles) and autonomous driving cars. In hybrid technology, they don’t match Toyota. They do have some hydrogen engineering in play. In EV tech, they’re not yet on the field. Autonomous hasn’t even been mentioned — until now. Which is good news for Honda fans, since Honda is known for reliable engineering.
Goal-setting is the first step. Honda has now set an aspirational date of 2025 to develop a fully self-driving car.
“We are not concerned about plans of Nissan or other carmakers,” explained Honda’s CEO Takahiro Hachigo. “We set the 2025 target because if we don’t set a plan, it will be very unclear for our R&D staff to know what they should do by when.”
First electrics this year
The first hybrid-electric vehicles from Honda are arriving this year, 2018 in Canada. Sold as the Clarity brand, they will offer two models, a plugin electric hybrid and a non-plug version. Similar to the Toyota Prius plugin, it will travel about 68 kilometers in full electric mode before switching to hybrid for a total of 531 kilometers. Honda says they project selling 75,000 in the U.S.
Honda had dipped its toe in hybrid for awhile, but never made it big in a niche practically owned by Toyota. As always, Honda targets both Nissan and Toyota in its models, and will likely go for more power, speed and better handling if possible.
Honda only created it’s EV division for research and development in October of 2016, but plans to field EVs in the huge Chinese market, where the government is actively pushing for electrics.
2025 for autonomous
The wait for autonomous self-driving cars will take much longer — about four years longer than anticipated by the big players Ford, Nissan and Volvo. While most major car makers have prototypes running tests, and some even have semi-autonomous cars on the road (Tesla and Volvo), Honda has not publicly aspired to the niche — until now. The goal is 2025. Honda, famous for engineering, will no doubt do a fine job, but — by then — other makers will likely have gone on the road without supervision. Google’s Waymo has already demonstrated fully autonomous in videos showing a driverless car with a blind passenger being chauffeured around, weaving in and out of traffic. [Story here>>]
Autonomous is taking a backseat to EVs and safety. “We identified the introduction of electrification technologies and advanced safety technologies as our highest priorities and we are working proactively on them,” Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo said. These tactics are vital to make fleet-based emission and fuel economy ratings.
Fuel cell versus electric
Honda bet rather heavily on fuel-cell vehicles, while competitor Toyota focused on hybrid and Nissan on electric. Since fuel-cells generally lack infrastructure in North America, the tactic may come up short in this market, although it has better prospects in parts of Europe and Asia. Electric doesn’t absolutely require infrastructure, but does for extended range driving. Hybrid doesn’t require any infrastructure. If North America agressively builds out hydrogen infrastructure, Honda will be in the best position to exploit, although Toyota has it’s high-tech Mirai.