What is it about Japanese car companies and electric cars? The nation that taught the world (with a little help from William Deming) about “just in time” manufacturing and raised the manufacture of high quality automobiles to a high art, seems bound and determined to resist the EV revolution with every fiber of its being. Japan is enthralled with the idea of vehicles powered by hydrogen, but has no realistic notion of how to obtain hydrogen from sustainable sources, no distribution infrastructure, and no clue how to make a fuel cell-powered car with the same performance we are used to from a battery electric.
The head of mighty Toyota warns that electric cars are a danger to the industry. Subaru, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and Mazda have only the most cursory plans for producing battery electric cars. Nissan was an early leader in electric cars, but has failed to update its LEAF sufficiently to keep it competitive. Honda has designed a nifty all-electric urban car for the European market, but priced it too high and with too short a range to attract many buyers.
But now, Honda says 100% of its cars will be electrified by 2040. “Electrified” is code for some hybrids, some plug-in hybrids, some battery electric cars, and some hydrogen fuel cell cars. All told, the company says it will invest $46.3 billion in research and development initiatives — including electrification — over the next six years, regardless of sales revenue fluctuations, according to Autoblog.
One hates to be a wet blanket, but “electrified” hardly meets the need to convert to zero emissions vehicles as soon as possible. Until green hydrogen is abundant, fuel cell promises are just a lie companies tell themselves, their governments, and their customers. Notice there is not one word from Honda about creating EV charging or hydrogen refueling infrastructure to support the transition to its “electrified” future. That makes this announcement pretty much “feel good” greenwashing. Color us unimpressed, Honda.
Car and Driver says Honda’s plans for North America call for electrified and fuel cell vehicles to make up 40% of sales by 2030, 80% by 2035, and 100% by 2040. The first of Honda’s new EV models will arrive for the 2024 model year using GM’s Ultium battery platform. Both will be crossovers, with one wearing a Honda badge and the other carrying an Acura badge. Later this decade, Honda will introduce its e:Architecture electric car platform, which will be used first for cars coming to the US market and later for other world markets. The company has not said whether the new platform will be the basis for fuel cell powered vehicles as well.
The company apparently plans to offer more hybrid models in its home market. For some reason, Japanese customers seem to be particularly resistant to the idea of driving battery electric cars, which seems odd for a nation whose major cities are at grave risk from rising sea levels.
Perhaps things are changing in Japan. After the world climate summit hosted by President Biden last week, Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, announced that Japan will aim for a 46% cut in emissions by 2030 and look for ways to go even further, nearly doubling its previous target. The goal set by the government is “feasible,” said new Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe.
Honda makes some of the best passenger vehicles available at any price. Is it about to refocus its energies on creating compelling electric cars? If this week’s announcements are any indication, the answer is “No.” It plans to play follow the leader as the EV revolution moves forward. That’s disappointing for a company that was once the envy of the automobile manufacturing world. Will Honda even be in business in 2040? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
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