Honda Says Hydrogen Auto Fuel Cell Know-How Helped Speed Battery-Car Plan

Honda Motor Co. said expertise gained from designing autos that run on fuel cells helped it speed up development of a battery-powered Fit, after the company was late in entering the growing market for rechargeable cars.

Parts of the Fit, due in 2012, including the motor and transmission are derived from those used in the hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity sedan, said Sachito Fujimoto, Honda’s senior chief engineer for fuel-cell and electric autos. Honda yesterday detailed plans to test electric Fits in Torrance, California, and at Google Inc. and Stanford University, as well as a plug-in hybrid sedan in Torrance that’s also being readied for sale.

“All of the development knowledge we acquired was leveraged,” Fujimoto said in an interview yesterday at the Torrance-based U.S. headquarters for Honda, Japan’s second- largest automaker. Compared with battery cars, “fuel-cell technology is very difficult. We tried to work on the most difficult technology first.”

Honda unveiled the electric Fit in Los Angeles last month, in part to meet a California rule requiring such vehicles, after touting hydrogen as the best low-pollution alternative to gasoline in the past decade. The Tokyo-based company faces a global challenge from carmakers including Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and General Motors Co., which all preceded Honda in announcing plans to sell rechargeable autos.

Battery cars charged at electrical outlets store power for propulsion, while fuel cells make electricity onboard a vehicle in a chemical reaction with hydrogen and oxygen. Both technologies eliminate tailpipe exhaust and emissions of carbon and other gases linked to climate change.

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Honda climbed 1.9 percent to 3,235 yen as of 1:45 p.m. in Tokyo trading, poised for the highest close since April 28. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average gained 0.3 percent.

The market for autos charged at electrical outlets and hybrids may expand to about 7 percent of global sales volume, or 5.2 million units, by 2020, industry researcher J.D. Power & Associates, said in October. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s chief executive officer, has said he expects electric cars to account for 10 percent of global industry sales by 2020, rising from several thousand units, or less than 1 percent, this year.

Honda leases a few dozen Claritys to Los Angeles-area drivers. The expense and complexity of building such cars, which use platinum and other costly metals, and a lack of hydrogen fuel stations has delayed retail sales plans for them until at least 2015 or later.

“The industry trend seems to be focused on the battery electric vehicle,” Fujimoto said. Honda’s fuel-cell development is advancing toward a car that can be sold to retail customers. “We’re really approaching that,” he said, without elaborating.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kae Inoue at kinoue@bloomberg.net.

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