By on November 12, 2019

Image: Honda

Count Honda among the dwindling number of automakers that believe a sudden market shift to electric drive technology is little more than a pipe dream. As you read yesterday, the company’s CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, is on the record as saying, “I do not believe there will be a dramatic increase in demand for battery vehicles, and I believe this situation is true globally.”

While rival automakers like Toyota, Mazda, and Subaru have teamed up to advance their electrified ambitions, Honda chose to take it slow and go its own way. Its efforts have already born fruit, and continue to do so. Honda was the first automaker with a mass-market hybrid, but the ensuing two decades has seen the automaker temper its expectations of a fickle, gas-loving public. The brand’s product reflects its outlook.

So, how’s that product doing?

Well, we can’t tell you about the 2020 CR-V Hybrid, as that model only goes on sale early next year. Honda saw fit to keep a hybrid version of its new-for-2018 Accord sedan in order to challenge Toyota’s range of gas-electric Camrys, which shows a solid attempt to keep up with the segment leader.

As for dedicated green models, Honda hasn’t given up on the idea. To the contrary, last year saw the automaker stage a return of the Insight — a dedicated hybrid nameplate, only this time positioned as a semi-premium compact sedan between Civic and Accord. Arriving before the Insight was the Clarity — a seldom-seen line of green liftbacks boasting futuristic fender skirts and a trio of propulsion choices.

Honda Clarity NYIAS 2017

Offered (in California) as a fuel cell-powered electric vehicle, a plain battery-electric (in California and Oregon), and a plug-in hybrid (nationwide), the Clarity was a clear sign that Honda aimed to keep a toehold in the ultra-green field.

And a toehold it will remain, after Honda’s summertime decision to relegate its Clarity PHEV inventory to the state most likely to buy one: California. While dealers across the Lower 48 will still be able to order one, chances are you haven’t seen any sitting on lots recently. That move, plus the restricted horizons of the range-compromised BEV version and the hydrogen-quaffing FCV variant, has seen Clarity sales slip.

With the first few Clarity models arriving in December 2016, sales rose slowly through 2017 and came into their own in 2018, as wider availability brought the unique model to more driveways. Customers can only lease the FCV and BEV versions, and the fully-electric model offers just 89 miles of range. To counter the limited range, Honda offers a pretty cheap lease ($199 a month with $1,799 due at signing).

2019 Honda Insight - Image: Honda

Clearly, the PHEV version is the most practical and widespread version, but Honda’s decision to focus more intensely on California has helped accelerate a downward sales trend. Only January and February of this year saw a year-over-year sales increase; each month thereafter saw Clarity sales slip. Clarity sales fell 70 percent, year over year, in October. September’s YoY decline was 75 percent. Year to date, the nameplate is down over 35 percent.

The Insight, however, is a newer and more easily attainable vehicle, and it isn’t nearly as scary to consumers, technology-wise. First appearing on the U.S. sales charts in June 2018, the Insight has averaged over 2,000 sales per month, though it seems the model quickly reached a sales plateau. On offer for just over a year, October and September saw the model suffer year-over-year sales decreases. Last month’s drop was to the tune of 25 percent.

2019 Honda Insight

One mark against the Insight is that, well, it’s a sedan. Not its fault. Another is that past Insights did not carry the same clout as the model’s rival, the Toyota Prius. The first iteration offered seating for two; the last, a feeling of lacklustre quality, despite the backseat. There were gaps where the nameplate disappeared altogether, sinking name recognition.

Where Honda takes its cautious, less-than-enthusiastic electrified product plan in North America remains to be seen. A global EV architecture is under development, capable of handling larger electric vehicles for markets like Europe, China, and the U.S. For now, hybrid variants of top-selling models, a la Toyota, seems the most sensible and cost-efficient way to insert green into its lineup.

[Images: Honda]

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15 Comments on “As Honda’s CEO Pours Cold Water Over Electrics, How Are the Brand’s Dedicated Green Cars Doing?...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    You can’t make money on EVs until you go big – maybe.

    Going small guarantees losses, which is what every EV mfr has discovered. Only Tesla has had (very) intermittent profitability, and only VAG has a chance of catching up with their volume.

    So to everyone else, there is little point of diving into the deep end of the EV pool unless they are forced to do so by regulators. Planning to fail (like selling only in CA) means… you fail.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      When it comes to EVs, your losing is only limited by your spending.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Honda’s Hybrid’s are average at best. Now that Toyota has dropped the “Synergy” tagline Honda has at least one iron in the fire with GM EV/AV.

      Honda/Acura is so far behind they had to find someone to invest in. So GM was the wise choice for AV and EV tech.

      Honda’s own self-driving development program isn’t close to anything like that. The company said last year that it likely won’t release its first Level 4 self-driving system until 2025. (A “Level 4” system is one that is limited, typically to areas that have been carefully mapped. You can learn more about the “levels” of autonomous-vehicle technology here.) Motley Fool

    • 0 avatar
      randy in rocklin

      When you go big you get economies of scale vs. going small, then each unit becomes more costly to build.

  • avatar
    Kita Ikki

    Insight pricing is too high relative to the Accord Hybrid.
    Mid-level Insight EX is equipped comparably to the base Accord Hybrid, and priced very close to the larger, more powerful Accord.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Correct.

      In theory, this is the top-line Civic (Type-R aside), but there isn’t enough room for a significant price spread between the Civic and Accord to slot this in.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    89 miles isn’t enough for a BEV. The sweet spot starts at 150 miles in my opinion.

    As for the hybrids, Honda’s developed an excellent system, but they haven’t figured out how to market it. Toyota is doing a much better job with the Corolla/Camry/RAV4/Highlander hybrids.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Toyota basically knocked it out of the park starting with the MkII Prius, and sheer momentum is carrying it through, if nothing else! (And with the ugly-stick beating it took with the current generation, that’s quite a feat!)

    • 0 avatar
      Kenn

      Honda’s forthcoming CR-V Hybrid will differentiate from Toyota by using a 2-motor system. While the engine will be in almost-continuous use, the vehicle is said to run primarily on electrical power using the engine to drive a motor/generator turning a drive motor. This will allow the battery to be small and relatively light, while avoiding having to be plugged in for a full charge, as in the Volt. This would seem ideal for those wanting an electrically-driven vehicle, but without access to home charging.

  • avatar
    4onthefloor

    Was looking into the 2020 CRV hybrid due to the oil dilution problems with the 1.5 turbo. It has been available overseas for a year or two however the 0-60 is said to be 9.2 sec. according to reviews I have read. That’s just too slow for us. It’s a shame Honda is not doing more to address the oil dilution issues as I would love to buy the gasser, however Honda has not done enough to definitely put the issue to rest. I have purchased Honda’s for many years, but it looks like I’ll have to move to a different brand. It’s a name as the new platform in touring trim is nice except for the engine issues. I just can’t understand the logic of Honda on this.

  • avatar
    bubbajet

    The Clarity is just plain ugly, and it’s got plastic hubcaps on a $40K vehicle. The Insight is a bit too small, right between the Civic and Accord. Just not enough room for a family of four.

    I’ve got an Accord Hybrid, and it’s the best car I’ve ever owned. It’s far from sporty, but it’ll get out of it’s own way in a pinch and it’s very much a stately sedan ride. Almost Mercedes sedan-ish, if you squint and put it in Eco mode. And I’m averaging 49.45MPG over the life of the car. Not bad for a mid-size sedan that drives *just like a regular car.* I should note that on long road trips with three adults, I only get 45-46MPG at 70MPH.

    Every time I drive my Accord, I wish they had put the Clarity’s plug-in system in it. Even better would be a pure electric car, with 250-300 miles of range. It’s doable, Tesla has proven it. If Honda would build it, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

    • 0 avatar
      whynotaztec

      I have the 2017, only downside is the small trunk. It’s a great car, easy to get 50mpg and it has all the toys. Plus I stole it on a heavily discounted lease. And it transitions so smoothly, I can’t believe how many people complain about stop/ start on other makes.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        There is a huge difference in stop start systems on a standard ICE power train and a Hybrid like the Toyota/Ford style systems or the Accord Hybrid. In those there is a traction motor that can start the car moving even with the engine off. A second motor can spin the engine up to normal idle speed or higher before they start giving it fuel. They can also use that motor to smoothly bring the engine to a stop.

        Meanwhile on traditional ICE vehicles you have a traditional starter banging against a ring gear that can only spin the engine to maybe half the normal idle speed and you have to deal with it sputtering up to idle speed before it can actually start moving the vehicle.

  • avatar
    vvk

    > Clarity — a seldom-seen line of green liftbacks boasting futuristic fender skirts and a trio of propulsion choices.

    Clarity is a sedan, not a liftback.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Hypothesis: There is negative correlation between the introduction of fender skirts and corporate longevity.

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