Honda Unveils Japan-Built Accord Hybrid to Replace U.S. Model

  • Gas-electric sedan to get 48 MPG in city-highway driving
  • Honda plans plug-in hybrid and battery-only Clarity models

Honda Motor Co. unveiled a gasoline-electric Accord sedan that will be exported from Japan to help deal with currency fluctuations and sluggish sales.

The company stopped making Accord hybrids in Marysville, Ohio, last year while it shifted production to its Sayama plant near Tokyo. Honda showed off the new Japan-built model to reporters Wednesday in Detroit.

“Honda is trying get back into the hybrid market with the Accord, and this is a low-risk way to do it because of multiple markets they can serve from Japan,’’ said Alan Baum, an independent auto analyst in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “Plus, making vehicles in Japan is much more profitable than it was three to four years ago.’’

Japan’s currency has weakened to about 110 yen to the dollar from 76 yen in January 2012, boosting the value of exports for the country’s manufacturers. And U.S. sales of the Accord hybrid have declined, with a 21 percent drop to 11,063 last year. The hybrid market has been dominated by Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius, which generated 184,794 U.S. deliveries in 2015.

Honda may also export Civic small cars and CR-V sport utility vehicles from Japan to the U.S., President Takahiro Hachigo said last month.

Fuel Economy

When the gasoline-electric Accord, Honda’s newest hybrid, goes on sale later this year as a 2017 model, it will get 48 miles (77 kilometers) per gallon based on revised U.S. government tests used to measure combined city and highway driving, John Mendel, the automaker’s executive vice president of U.S. sales, said at a press briefing Wednesday. He said the new Accord hybrid would have scored as high as 51 mpg on the prior test, under which the 2015 model is rated at 47 mpg. Federal regulators revised the tests to include more high-speed driving simulations.

The new Accord hybrid has a 2-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine that with the car’s electric motor generates a combined peak output of 212 horsepower. That’s the highest of any midsize hybrid sedan and an increase of 16 horsepower from the previous model, Honda said.

Mendel said he’s aiming for annual sales of about 28,000 for the Accord hybrid. He declined to specify pricing, but said it won’t differ much from the 2015 model, which starts at about $29,000. He said U.S. deliveries of that model suffered because of shortages of batteries and other components as hybrid sales rose faster in Japan than in other countries.

U.S. sales of electrified vehicles including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and those powered by only batteries or fuel cells, fell 11 percent to 509,461 last year, Baum said. Low gasoline prices helped cause the decline, but governments are continuing their push to reduce greenhouse gases and other pollutants, Baum said.

In his speech last month, Hachigo promised that by about 2030, two-thirds of Honda’s global fleet with be electrified.

Fuel-Cell Models

Mendel on Wednesday touted the premium appeal of the five-passenger Clarity fuel-cell sedan, which is part of Honda’s global effort. The car is already sold in Japan; when U.S. sales start later this year, it will cost $60,000 to purchase or about $500 a month to lease. Owners will be able to refuel the Clarity in less than five minutes and then drive for 300 miles, according to the automaker. The car will go on sale first in California, which has 15 hydrogen refueling stations now and plans 100 by 2020.

Next year, Honda plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid derivative of the Clarity that can travel 40 miles in electric-only mode. That exceeds the 33-mile average daily commute for most Americans, while the gasoline engine will be available as a backup. The company also intends to introduce a battery-only version of the Clarity in 2017.

By 2030, the Clarity family of vehicles may rival Honda’s mainstream models such as the Accord and Civic in global volume, Mendel said. Toward that end, the company is reworking several plants to be able to make Clarity vehicles. The fuel-cell stack and hydrogen tank for the current model fits into the same compartment as gasoline engines.

The revamped Accord hybrid and the Clarity expansion show that Honda is redoubling efforts to transform electrified vehicles into a high-volume business, Mendel said.

“These are not compact cars anymore,” he said. “You can put five people in them and go anywhere you want. And gasoline isn’t going to stay at $1.59 a gallon forever.’’

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