Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo told Automotive News in an interview this week that his company will focus on hybrid vehicles instead of battery electric cars. He also played down autonomous driving systems like Tesla’s Autopilot. “The hurdles to battery electric vehicles and complete autonomous driving are still quite high. I don’t know whether other manufacturers are becoming too optimistic or not, but apparently the approach in going about these regulations differs from one company to another,” he said.
“I do not believe there will be a dramatic increase in demand for battery vehicles, and I believe this situation is true globally. There are issues with infrastructure and hardware. There are different regulations in different countries, and we have to abide by them. But I don’t believe it will become mainstream anytime soon,” he added. Hachigo left unclear whether he was referring to conventional hybrids like the Toyota Prius or plug-in hybrids like the Prius Prime.
As for self-driving technology, Honda seems content to simply add digital driver assist features like traffic aware cruise control, lane centering, forward emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring to its Honda Sensing package, according to Teslarati.
Hachigo’s statements are quite surprising given that the company is on the verge of introducing its Honda-e battery electric car in the UK and Europe. The implication is that car is basically a compliance car meant to meet stricter emissions rules that go into effect January 1. Those who thought the Honda-e was a sign the the company would embrace battery electric transportation will be disappointed to hear the company has no active plans to bring more electric cars to market.
Toyota RAV4 Prime Debuts
Toyota has taken the wraps off its new RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid SUV at the Los Angeles auto show this week. The car is a considerable step up from the current RAV4 Hybrid, with a total of 302 horsepower on tap — 89 more than the regular RAV4 Hybrid. The RAV4 Prime sprints to 60 mph | 96 km/h in 5.8 seconds — a full two seconds faster than the standard RAV4 Hybrid.
The new car will have an all electric range of 39 miles | 62.7 km, the longest of any SUV sold in America, the company says. It has an EPA fuel economy rating of 90 MPGe — a far cry from the V-6 powered RAV4, which can only manage 21 mpg combined. The new car also makes use of a heat pump in the heating and air conditioning systems for greater efficiency.
Prices for the RAV4 Prime, which goes on sale next summer, have not yet been announced but the current Prius Prime lists for about $3,500 more than the regular Prius. The RAV4 Hybrid lists for $28,100, so add $3,500 to get an idea of what the sticker price will be when the new car arrives in showrooms.
According to Green Car Congress, the new car continues to use the Predictive Efficient Drive feature found on the regular RAV4 Hybrid. That system reads the road and learns driver patterns to optimize hybrid battery charging and discharging operations based on driving conditions. It accumulates data as the vehicle is driven and “remembers” road features such as hills and stoplights and adjusts the hybrid powertrain operation to maximize efficiency.
Like Honda, Toyota is focusing more on hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cell cars than on battery electric vehicles, although it recently announced a joint venture with BYD to build electric cars for the Chinese market. There seems to be some sort of cultural bias among Japanese manufacturers against fully electric cars, which is quite at odds with the major EV push that German manufacturers like Volkswagen, Mercedes, and BMW are making.
Some companies will be proven right about their strategy calls in the years ahead. Others risk losing market share or going out of business entirely if they don’t get their sums right. Who will prosper and who will fall by the wayside is unclear at the moment. But there can be little doubt that a car with a 90 MPGe rating is a whole lot better than one that gets a measly 21 miles to a gallon of gas. Perhaps there is room in the marketplace for several different approaches to lowering total transportation emissions.
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