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Honda to bring plug-in electric cars to U.S.

Auto giant Honda outlines its plans to introduce an all-electric vehicle and new plug-in hybrid in the U.S. and Japan in 2012.

Once considered a step behind in plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, Honda on Tuesday outlined plans to introduce a range of plug-in electric vehicles to the U.S. and Japan.

Honda said it will introduce both a battery-electric and a plug-in hybrid to the U.S. in 2012. It also said that it plans to use lithium-ion battery technology in the next-generation hybrid Civic, which will be introduced in 2011.

Among the planned models are an all-electric, or battery-electric, "commuter vehicle" and a plug-in hybrid system for mid-size and larger vehicles, both of which will be introduced to the U.S. in 2012.

Honda plans to deliver all-electric cars for demonstration programs with Stanford University, Google, and the City of Torrance, Calif., where Honda's U.S. operation is based.

The move sharpens the competition in the plug-in electric-vehicle category, where all the major automakers and start-ups, such as Tesla Motors, plan to bring out electric or hybrid cars in the next two years.

In addition to the new models, Honda expects to introduce more hybrids which use its existing hybrid platform, now used on the Insight and CR-Z. The first model will be a hybrid version of the Fit compact available in Japan this fall, said Honda CEO Takanobu Ito at an event in Japan on Tuesday.

Honda will also boost investment to make its gasoline and diesel engines more efficient, starting with revamped designs in 2012, he said. The company will continue development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which it considers the best long-term clean transportation technology.

Although it does already offer hybrids, Honda executives have been unenthusiastic about plug-in vehicles. In 2007, then-CEO Takeo Fukui said that plug-in hybrids offer too few environmental benefits while tacking on significant costs.

Toyota had also been very cautious about pursuing plug-in electric vehicles, but last week the company announced a plan to bring all-electric RAV4 SUVs to the U.S. through a partnership with Tesla in 2012.

Honda's current CEO, Ito, said on Tuesday that the company is investing in environmental technologies to spur growth. "'With low CO2 emissions'" represents our conviction based on the strong sense of crisis that, as a manufacturer of personal mobility, Honda will have no future unless we achieve a significant reduction of CO2 emissions," Ito said in a statement.