This Honda Civic Hybrid is on Japanese police duty. (Credit: Flickr/Kenjonbro)
Can snazzier batteries jump-start Honda's hybrid sales? The Honda Civic Hybrid is planning to switch to lithium-ion batteries in a bid to make it more competitive with the embattled Toyota Prius (which has the lion's share of the hybrid market).
Li-ion is, of course, the default battery for nearly all the world's coming plug-in EVs, and it has by far the greatest energy density of any available chemistry. Hybridcars.com reports that li-ion packs could even be cheaper than the nickel-metal packs standard in hybrids today.
While not the biggest deal in the world, it's still very significant--the only hybrid to use li-ion right now is the Mercedes S400, and that's in a whole other price category. Bloomberg got its scoop, as it often does, from its Japanese reporters (Makkio Kitamura and Yuki Hagiwara). Honda Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo told them in a Tokyo interview that the Civic Hybrid would have li-ion within the next two to three years. "Lithium will become a lot more prevalent," he said.
Honda's li-ion plans hadn't made it to this side of the world. A U.S.-based Honda spokesman told me, "I suspect you read the same story I did. That's the first I'd heard of it and now you and I know the same very limited amount. It is way too soon to disclose details of any kind regarding the next-generation Civic, and I assure you that would be the answer provided by anyone (PR or executive) in North America."
The Civic Hybrid is produced at the company's Suzuka factory in Japan, and most of the news about upcoming hybrids emanates from over there. It's interesting, though, that 84% of the cars Honda sold in the U.S. last year were actually produced in North America.
Li-ion can store twice the energy of nickel-metal-hydride, so not only could the new Civic Hybrid have a smaller and lighter battery, it could possibly also have significant electric-only range (like a plug-in hybrid without a plug). I can envision a Civic Hybrid that could travel 10 to 15 miles on batteries alone. Toyota is switching to li-ion, too, but for the plug-in hybrid it will introduce in two years.
Honda has struggled to move its hybrids against the Toyota Prius juggernaut. But in February, Honda's hybrid sales were up--the Insight by 54% and the Civic Hybrid by 37%. Meanwhile, the Prius was down six percent. There's no great mystery about this, with Prius recalls and runaway cars in the news. Can Honda sustain its momentum? Maybe li-ion could be the tipping point. Not that Toyota isn't thinking along the same lines.
The next-generation hybrid is the snazzy two-seat 2011 CR-Z, and I'll be taking a closer look at the production version of that at the New York Auto Show in less than two weeks. Here's a video look at that coming hybrid:
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