Honda invests $340 million in U.S. for fuel-efficient cars


Honda Motor Co. will invest $340 million to build fuel-efficient gasoline engines in Ohio as it plans a slate of new electric cars in a push for more vehicles with lower emissions.

Honda has added an assembly line at its Anna, Ohio, plant to build the new turbo-charged, four-cylinder gasoline engines, set to debut later this year. The so-called VTEC engines boost efficiency with valves that vary the flow of air and fuel depending on speed.

The Tokyo-based automaker also plans to debut its next fuel cell vehicle next year and will offer both a plug-in hybrid and a battery-only electric car by 2018.

The company is looking to meet government requirements for cleaner vehicles as well as to boost fuel economy for drivers, Robert Bienenfeld, U.S. senior manager of environmental strategy, said at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week.

Honda and other automakers are pushing greener vehicle options as consumers benefit from the lowest gasoline prices since 2009.

“We need good price signals to continue advancing these technologies,” Bienenfeld said, referring to the declining cost of fuel.

The average price for a gallon of gas was about $2.12 as of Monday, according to AAA, the motoring club. Sales of sport utility trucks and pickups have benefited from the decline, with SUV deliveries jumping 12 percent last year, according to Autodata Corp.

Honda will also debut mainstream applications of the hybrid system introduced this week in its Acura NSX sports car. The technology mates a gasoline engine with three electric motors for driving the wheels.

The pricing on the electric model range will be “very competitive with what’s in the marketplace,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda. He declined to be more specific.

The automaker also displayed a fuel cell prototype to be introduced in 2016. Fuel cells are battery-like devices that produce power through an electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and air, producing water vapor as a byproduct.

Compared to the Clarity sedan introduced in 2008, next year’s version will be equipped with fuel-cell components that are a third smaller and produce 60 percent more power, said Stephen Ellis, manager of fuel cell vehicle marketing for American Honda.

The latest configuration allows seating for five adults and better acceleration than the Clarity, which performs like a V-6 gas-powered Accord, Ellis said. It also means the fuel cell components can be installed in the same engine compartment, using the same assembly line, as gasoline engines in mainstream vehicles like the CR-V sport utility, Ellis said.

And with a full tank of hydrogen, Honda’s new fuel cell car will be able to power an average Japanese home for nine days during power blackouts, he said.