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Honda plans return to larger hybrids

Automotive News reports on Honda's plans to build bigger hybrid vehicles.

Automotive News

TOKYO--Honda Motor Co. plans to return to larger hybrid vehicles with a new electric-gasoline drivetrain after miserable sales of an earlier hybrid Accord forced it to quit the segment.

Honda's current hybrid system, in smaller cars such as the Civic and Insight, uses one motor. A hybrid system under development will use two.

"That is one major initiative we are working on," Tsuneo Tanai, COO of automobile operations at Honda, told Automotive News on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show. "The motor will have higher output. There will be dual motors, with a larger battery that enables the car to be driven in all-electric mode."

Tanai declined to say what large models would get the new hybrid system or when. But Japan's Nikkei business daily reported last month that Honda plans to add a hybrid minivan in 2011.

Honda also is studying mating the system to a lithium ion battery, Tanai said. The company's current hybrids run on nickel-metal hydride power packs.

When the next-generation lithium batteries arrive, they will be more compact. That could allow them to be swapped with the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in smaller hybrids, he added.

"It still requires some development time to make the whole energy management system suitable for lithium batteries as opposed to nickel batteries," Tanai said.

Moving to two motors would be a shift toward a more robust full-hybrid system resembling that of the Toyota Prius. Honda's current system has only limited capability to run on battery power alone. Usually, the electric motor is engaged to assist the gasoline engine.

Honda is still stinging from the lackluster sales of its Accord Hybrid, which featured a V-6 gasoline engine and was pulled at the end of the 2007 model year.

Since then, Honda has focused its hybrid push on small cars, arguing that small hybrids are most often used for city driving, where regenerative braking constantly recharges the batteries. For larger vehicles, it said it favored diesel engines for their fuel efficiency.

In March Honda launched the hybrid-only Insight in the United States. It plans to launch the CR-Z sporty hybrid in the United States next spring. It will add a hybrid Fit around 2012.

(Source: Automotive News)