Honda: New Civic hybrid will outrun Prius
From wire reports
TOKYO — Honda has developed an improved gas-and-electric engine for the Civic compact set to go on sale this fall, the Japanese automaker said Tuesday. The current Civic hybrid gets about 51 mpg on the highway.
With global sales of nearly 600,000 units a year, the Civic is Honda's best-selling model after the Accord, and the remodeled version is widely expected to generate big sales gains for Japan's third-biggest automaker.
Honda Motor said a specific mileage estimate for the new hybrid system would not be provided until later this year, but said it's about 5% better than current Civic hybrid cars, which delivers about 51 miles per gallon under U.S. highway conditions.
Honda said the improved i-VTEC (intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control System) technology — which helps engines burn fuel more efficiently while enhancing driving performance — would raise the engine's fuel economy 6% in the new gasoline-only Civic.
Honda also developed a more powerful, fuel-efficient hybrid system that would enable its gasoline-electric vehicles to run solely on the electric motor at low cruising speeds for the first time, like Toyota Motor's popular Prius sedan.
The new system is smaller, lighter and costs up to 30% less than the existing version, a Honda engineer said.
Company officials, briefing reporters at Honda's Tokyo headquarters, also said the new Civic will offer better fuel efficiency than the Prius.
Hybrids offer better mileage and reduce pollution and global warming by switching between a gas engine and electric motor.
Honda has long been at the forefront of "green" powertrain technology, perhaps most famously with the development in 1973 of the CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) engine — the world's first to meet U.S. Clean Air Act requirements without a catalytic converter, and which gave the popular Civic its name.
Honda's cars and trucks in the United States, its biggest market, can on average run 29.0 miles on a gallon of gasoline — above the industry's 24.6 mpg — and its vehicles emits half the industry's average level of smog-forming pollutants.
Honda's ranking as one of the world's most fuel-efficient car brands is mainly due to its widespread use of environmentally friendly gasoline-engine technology, and that trend will continue despite the development of an improved hybrid system, an executive said.
"The most meaningful way to raise the fleet's overall performance and efficiency is to make new technologies like this available on a wide range of vehicles," Motoatsu Shiraishi, senior managing director and head of Honda's R&D unit, told reporters.
"We intend to use this technology on all vehicles that share the Civic powertrain eventually," he said.
David Friedman, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Clean Vehicles Program, said Honda could raise its fleet's mileage to 40 mpg within 10 years purely through the widespread use of existing technology — even excluding gasoline-electric hybrids.
"When it comes to global warming, the industry overall is a bit of a dinosaur," he said in a telephone interview. "Clearly, Honda is a better dinosaur but they're still doing poorly compared to their potential."
Besides the Prius, Toyota has introduced other hybrids and is planning more. Honda already has developed hybrid versions of its Civic and Accord sedans and makes a hybrid called Insight.
Ford Motor has said hybrid versions of its upcoming Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans will be on the road within three years, and it has already introduced the Escape SUV hybrid. General Motors is planning to introduce a hybrid Chevrolet Malibu in 2008.
Although hybrids represent a tiny portion of auto sales — less than 1% of U.S. auto sales last year — their popularity is growing especially as gas prices have soared in recent years.
So a 5% increase makes it about 54 mpg. 30% cheaper system makes the premium about what only 2k more?