Honda Boss Skeptical About Plug-in Hybrids

Honda will introduce a model in 2009 that will only be available as a hybrid, like the Prius, in a bid to highlight the technology.

The head of Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co. said Dec. 19 he saw no value in developing plug-in hybrid vehicles. But Honda president Takeo Fukui said he expects competition in conventional petrol-electric hybrids to shift into high gear in the coming year amid growing demand for fuel-efficient vehicles.

"Until now, the hybrid vehicle business has been about creating impressions and images among potential buyers, and not about producing profitable vehicles at affordable prices," he told the group's annual year-end press conference. He acknowledged that rival Toyota Motor Corp. had made headway with its popular Prius hybrid, but added that the "real competition" begins now.

Honda will introduce a model in 2009 that will only be available as a hybrid, like the Prius, in a bid to highlight the technology, Fukui said. A new sports hybrid, based on the CR-Z, which was introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show, would also be launched globally sometime in the next few years, he added.

But Fukui said he saw no significant value in researching plug-in hybrid models, which can be recharged by connecting to a power plug. Such systems would require significant improvement in the capacity, weight, and size of batteries, motors, engines and other components, he said."I do not understand why people see value in plug-in (hybrids)," he said. "I cannot understand the rational for (developing) plug-ins."

Toyota as well as various research institutes and electric companies are currently developing plug-in hybrid technologies as cleaner alternatives to conventional vehicles.

Honda also said it aimed to raise its sales in China, Europe and the U.S. in 2008 to continue its robust growth. The automaker expects to sell 3.76 million vehicles globally in 2007, up six percent from a year ago. Honda expects sales in China to rise 17% next year to a record 490,000 vehicles. European sales are forecast to grow 11% in 2008 to 420,000 vehicles, while sales in the U.S. are expected to increase by just three percent to 1.59 million vehicles due to a soft economy.

Honda said it would also strive to improve its performance in Japan, where its sales are expected to decline 12% to 620,000 vehicles in 2007 amid a shrinking overall market.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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