New Honda chief hypes hybrids

Gasoline-electric cars seen replacing all models in 20 years

by Hiroko Nakata

Honda Motor Co. will focus on developing gasoline-electric vehicles, foreseeing that hybrids will replace other types of vehicles over the next 20 years, the new president of Japan’s No. 2 automaker said at his first news conference Monday.

Honda will widen its hybrid lineup with the launch of a new sporty CR-Z in February and hybrid versions of its compact Fit by the end of 2010, Takanobu Ito said.

“I believe all models (of all the automakers) will probably become hybrids in the next 20 years because hybrids definitely have better fuel-efficiency,” Ito told a group of reporters at the firm’s headquarters in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

Honda will eventually market the CR-Z in North America and Europe, Ito said, adding the Fit would follow overseas, without stating specific regions.

“As for four-wheel vehicles, we will focus on how we can spread hybrids (in the market),” he said.

Ito said Honda hopes to see hybrid vehicles accounting for about 10 percent of global sales by the early 2010s.

Ito was approved as the new president at an annual shareholders’ meeting last month.

His appointment followed a similar top-level change at Toyota Motor Corp., which recently named Akio Toyoda, a member of the founding family, as president to replace Katsuaki Watanabe.

Ito, 55, who was a senior managing director overseeing auto operations, replaced Takeo Fukui, 64, who had served at the top for six years.

After joining Honda in 1978, Ito began his career as an engineer designing chassis. He was in charge of developing the frame for the NSX sports car, which went on sale in 1990.

Ito said Honda will continue to develop midsize and large hybrid cars, including those with a so-called two-mode hybrid system of the type currently adopted for Toyota’s Prius.

The gasoline engine and electric motor in the Prius work separately, automatically trading off for the best fuel-efficiency depending on driving conditions.

Honda vehicles, on the other hand, run their gasoline engine and electric motor at the same time. Though lightweight and cheaper to produce, this system is less fuel-efficient than Toyota’s.

Honda is facing fierce competition from Toyota on the domestic market.

The Insight hybrid went on sale in February with a sticker price ranging from ¥1.89 million to ¥2.21 million. Toyota responded with a new Prius model priced at ¥2.05 million.

With 22,292 units sold, the Prius series outsold all other cars, including minivehicles, on the domestic market in June.