Ever hear an entire industry Gulp?" That line from a Honda Accord ad might be better applied to the company's recently introduced 2003 Civic Hybrid sedan. The new Honda model signals a bellwether event in automotive history. It is an early sign that a key industry is becoming serious about cutting the umbilical cord to the singular dominance of traditional gasoline engine-powered vehicles. The vehicle is also a sign that Honda is making a serious effort to maintain a leadership position in providing fuel-efficient vehicles. Being "serious" is indicated by the company's decision to transition the fuel-efficient technology from its first generation specialty hybrid model, the Insight, to the Civic, a "bread-and-butter" line that was introduced in 1973. Honda's strategy offers fuel economy for car buyers, a challenge for its competitors and a new and different opportunity for suppliers. "The Civic is one of the cornerstones of the Honda brand, and adding a hybrid to the Civic line is an example of the faith and confidence we have in the future of hybrid technology," says Tom Elliott, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Torrance, Calif. The Civic Hybrid uses Honda's innovative Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology employing a 1.3-liter I-DSI, four-cylinder gasoline engine coupled with a high-output electric motor to achieve both performance and fuel efficiency. The system's compact nickel-metal hydride battery is automatically recharged during braking and deceleration. As a result, the Civic Hybrid never needs to be plugged in. The IMA system provides a maximum of 93 horsepower and 116 pound-feet of torque for performance comparable with other Civic sedans. Fuel economy is improved by up to 30% compared with traditionally powered Civic sedans. EPA fuel economy ratings for the hybrid range from 46/51 mpg with the manual transmission to 48/47 mpg for Honda Civics with the automatic. That compares with 31.2 mpg for Honda's conventionally powered automobiles IMA incorporates a unique "idle stop" feature that automatically turns off the engine when the car is not moving to reduce fuel consumption and generate fewer emissions. The engine automatically restarts when the driver's foot is removed from the brake (on models with the automatic transmission), or when the car is put into gear with the clutch depressed (models with manual transmission). Meanwhile Honda continues to optimize its other fuel economy initiatives. In October it announced that its natural gas powered Civic GX sedan would be made available to retail customers. On sale since 1998, the vehicle had been targeted primarily at government fleet buyers. Concurrent with that announcement was the introduction of a new home-refueling appliance at the World Natural Gas Vehicle Conference 2002 in Washington, D.C. (In October 2000, Honda purchased a 20% interest in its maker, FuelMaker Corp., Toronto, Canada.) The low-cost appliance can be mounted in a garage and allows natural gas-powered vehicles to be re-fueled directly from a homeowner's existing natural gas supply line. The Civic GX uses a 1.7-liter, four-cylinder engine and has a range of 220 miles on one refill.