latter market, though -- hydrogen vehicles -- remains unproven and
expensive. And with federal
funding drying up for hydrogen research and pouring into the
electric vehicle industry, Toyota and Honda are placed in a tough
position. What makes it tougher is all the major U.S.
automakers have plans to debut electric vehicles by 2012, as does
Japanese competitor Nissan. Even the Germans are looking to get
in on the action, with Mercedes
both sporting electric concepts and cooking up commercial plans.
it appears that Honda may become the second to last of the major
international automakers to jump on the electric vehicle bandwagon.
a fastidious and tidy little EV at the Tokyo Auto Show a mere week
ago. The vehicle features swappable seat fabrics, a solar roof,
and an embedded "communications system".
Honda has dropped an even more tantalizing hint that it might be
reaching for the plug -- and jumping into the EV market. CEO
Takanobu Ito told Reuters that his company is considering
a major policy shift, moving away from hydrogen and instead moving to
launch a mass-produced electric vehicle in Europe, Japan, U.S.
admits that the considered switch is largely due to frustrations
concerning the hydrogen infrastructure. It says that stations
are being installed too slowly to deploy to even parts of the U.S. in
the short term. And it fears that without EVs it will be unable
to meet California's strict emissions regulations.
puts Toyota in a precarious position. While Toyota is the
world's largest automaker, and an incredibly successful firm, if
Honda switches, it will literally be defying the entire market and
calling them on their electric vehicle bet, hoping it fails. If
it doesn't, Toyota will be left on its own trying
to deploy hydrogen to Europe, the U.S., and Japan. And it
will be left hoping that EV sales don't showcase the strong growth
that some analysts are predicting.
Meanwhile the news is
welcome for American automakers. While a Honda entry would
clutter the emerging auto market, it would be acknowledgment that the
Big Three made the right call for once. It would also leave
Honda playing catch up to Ford, GM, and Chrysler all of which have
spent the last few years crafting electric vehicle designs.
That's a position the U.S. automakers would undoubtedly love to
maintain if they can keep it up.