Friday, December 29, 2006

Honda: 12 more years of no choice for consumers

There's really only one way to read the Kyodo News (Japan) report that Honda President Takeo Fukui said in an interview that Honda thinks it will be able to mass produce fuel-cell vehicles for the general market by 2018. For you and me that means gasoline-only Hondas (along with a few NGV Civics for die-hards) for at least another decade. Not surprising from this quintessential internal combusion engine company.

Honda previously announced plans to offer a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle based on its FCX Concept in Japan and the United States. At the Santa Monica AltFuel Expo in early December, I asked Steven Ellis, Honda AFV Chief, about the FCX. He said Honda would begin selling the car in 2008. I asked if he meant "selling" the car. Yes, he said. So I repeated, with emphasis, "selling?" And he confessed it would be, like the short-lived all-electric EV+, lease only. Press reports had already made clear it was to be lease-only, but seems the big auto guys can't help themselves. Reminiscent of GM referring to EV1 drivers as "owners," despite their unwillingness to actually sell the car. I also tried to find out the size of the battery pack in this battery/fuel cell hybrid car. "It's Lithium," he said proudly as he refused to divulge its kWh rating.
By evolving a next model based on this, I think the level of
technology will become very close to that of mass-produced ordinary
vehicles within 10 years or so. In 2018, I believe the development
[of a fuel-cell car] will have been very advanced. It will become a
real possibility to a large degree.
—Takeo Fukui
Fukui told Kyodo that there will be many customers who want to buy a Honda fuel-cell car if it goes on sale for ¥10 million (US$84,000) in the general market. Of course, the current cost of fuel cell cars is estimated at more than 10 times that figure.

Challenges that still need to be overcome before mass production is possible for Honda include reducing the amount of metals used for fuel cells, improving hydrogen storage and lower-cost production of hydrogen, according to Fukui. Is that all?

I suspect the battery we'll see in the FCX will be big enough to for a great plug-in hybrid. Honda could still sell it's engines with each car, but such a product would be marketable before the end of this decade. Not, I'm afraid, in Honda's plans. Yet.