Honda Fights Back For Hybrid Relevance

Cammy Corrigan
by Cammy Corrigan
honda fights back for hybrid relevance

Honda’s half-hearted approach to hybrids is about to be shaken up, possibly leading to the development of a hybrid system that goes beyond Honda’s traditional integrated motor assist (IMA) system. Automotive News [sub] reports that Honda CEO, Takanobu Ito has told his Research and Development staff to develop a hybrid which beats the Toyota Prius in fuel economy. Or else. This development probably has something to do the failure of the Honda Insight (Prius sales in 2009 were 139,682. Insight sales for the same period: 20,572); as Honda Executive VP, John Mendel said “Are we happy with how sales are going? No, we’re not happy.” Mr Ito made it clear that Honda’s hybrid line up is a top priority. “We want to develop and expand our hybrids,” said Ito. “We made some major sacrifices to shift people and resources to do that.”

TTAC has reported on some of the problems plaguing Honda’s hybrids, especially the recently-announced CR-Z, which was designed to be a sporty hybrid aimed at enthusiasts, and can be had with a manual transmission. However, choosing the manual transmission results in a major drop in fuel economy, which kind of defies the point of having a hybrid. The manual transmission gives 31/37mpg. Whereas, the CVT gearbox gives 36/38mpg. To give some extra perspective, a Mini Cooper with a manual transmission, gets 28/37mpg without any hybrid trickery. In a world where Toyota’s reliability is being called into question and Honda’s fuel economy is now looking rather suspect, it’s clear that nothing stands still in the world of cars. And with Hyundai poised to bring its own hybrids to the US market, Honda will have to scramble to stay ahead.

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  • Jaje Jaje on Jan 26, 2010

    Here is where Honda can really do a great hybrid by doing a clean Diesel hybrid combo. Locomotives run on diesel serial hybrid drive trains not gas parallel and the rail road industry is much more mature in hybrid technology than cars. A diesel gets 30% better mpg than a gas engine overall. Add Hybrid technology to get another 25% better fuel economy and you have a world beating hybrid. Hell Honda doesn't need to redesign their IMA just switch to diesels (and they have world class diesel engines in Europe). Just make the right transmission to work with these. Anyway - No one buys a hybrid for performance (at least yet). Honda's bet in that realm has failed (Accord Hybrid).

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    • Aqua225 Aqua225 on Jan 26, 2010

      The electric transmission in a locomotive is used to move the massive power of the diesel to the wheels reliably. I believe the typical thermal efficiency of a locomotive "electric transmission" is overall about 86% (ac induction motors for traction motors). Yes, a mechanical transmission can easily exceed this... but they generally don't by much, if you read many of the magazines who follow the car modification market. Usually a car transmission is good for 10 to 15% power loss between the wheels and the flywheel. Which could put electric transmissions on par with mechanical transmissions... however I suspect we could beat the 86% mark in a car, simply because you can use things like permanent magnet alternators rather than controlled-field alternators like locomotives use. Additionally, a car's tractive effort could be greatly improved from a standstill even with a relatively small engine. Most cars have oversized engines to provide a comfortable torque margine at the low end to get the car moving in a satisfying manner, since piston engines using internal combustion just don't have much lowend torque (at least not compared to later on in the horsepower curve). With an electric transmission, the engine could rev immediately to its redline, producing maximum electricity, and the motor controllers could then move that power to the wheels (as much as the rubber can handle). Having a smaller engine means better fuel effiency at cruising speed as well as just puttering around town (or stuck in traffic as it were). To me, it seems like a win, but it's definitely not cheap :) Your car becomes a poster child for copper, not exactly cheap currently. You could use aluminum wiring, but it will drop efficiency.

  • Carlson Fan Carlson Fan on Jan 26, 2010

    Also consider that diesel engines cost more to maintian & repair. Actually a diesel in something like the Volt where it could run at a constant speed would make a lot of sense but you'll never sell it to the US consumer.

  • Srogers Srogers on Jan 26, 2010

    I doubt that the diesels work as well with start/stop technology. They don't like cold starts, and, with their high compression, take more cranking power to fire up.

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    • Aqua225 Aqua225 on Jan 26, 2010

      Cranking power is a constant with the diesel, but cold start issues are largely a thing of the past due to electronic Direct FI. Supposedly many diesel only have glowplugs now for the most extreme environments, since the engine computer can dynamically alter the injection events. Ie., it can fire the injector at TDC to light off the engine where the compressed air is at its hottest, and then vary the timing to some other point as the engine warms up and the fuel can be injected before/after TDC for maximum power/fuel efficiency.

  • Jaje Jaje on Jan 26, 2010

    Or maybe Honda can just shelve hybrids all together and instead work on applying start stop systems to all their cars - this would make a significant difference in city mileage / stop and go. By making over 100 million gas powered cars & trucks more efficient for a lower cost - we'd all save much more gas than a million hybrids could ever do - not even considering the battery replacement requirements.