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Honda's new EV-N concept debuted at the Tokyo Auto Show last week.  (Source: AutoBlog Green)

Honda announced that it may be switching gears and launching EVs of its own. That would leave Toyota as the only automaker without EV plans -- and the only automaker to be focusing chiefly on hydrogen.  (Source: Eco Auto Ninja)
Honda's CEO says a plug-in is a real possibility in the near future

Honda and Toyota bet big on two things -- hybrids in the short term and hydrogen fuel cells in the long term.  For Toyota, the first bet has added up to 2 million units in sales and big profits.  And while Honda, which was the first to release a commercial hybrid in the U.S. initially saw the attempt flop, it now has a new second generation model -- the 2010 Honda Insight.

The 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 and Volvo both sporting electric concepts and cooking up commercial plans.

Now it appears that Honda may become the second to last of the major international automakers to jump on the electric vehicle bandwagon.  Honda debuted 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".

However, 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.

Honda 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.

The news 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.



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By Keeir on 10/21/2009 4:20:40 PM , Rating: 2
Well... I think a Hybrid can be an exciting car to drive. And a Hybrid may be the type of car for many people that get them involved again in the driving experience, similar to how a good manual gearbox or a properly torquey engine can for most car people.

Provided getting high MPG is what gives you thrills.

Hope these people then don't get into pretty much any other car on the road, because if your connected to the driving experience, Hybrids are sadly lacking.


By Reclaimer77 on 10/21/2009 6:53:45 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Well... I think a Hybrid can be an exciting car to drive.


...


By Keeir on 10/21/2009 7:22:17 PM , Rating: 2
What? A Hypermiler who is able to eck out an additional 1-2 MPG on their daily treck is certainly excited.

I can understand that mentality. If I lived in an areas where I was chained to under 60 mph and sub 10 second 0-60 times were impossible I could see that high MPG would have a definate "Driving excitement" factor over the typical performance car. Heck, that describes 90% of my current driving conditions. I can't even burn from a stop light too often due to the high level of traffic. I have to purposely drive out someplace to enjoy my car. I can certainly see a trade-off... at least with a high MPG you can have the exciting factor all the time.


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