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Back in August, Viknesh Vijayenthiran reported on rumors that Honda would launch a zero-emission battery electric vehicle in the US by 2015. The vehicle in question was described as a lithium-ion battery-powered minicar, and there was some speculation that Honda would unveil a prototype at the Tokyo Motor Show this October.
The rumors stemmed from articles in several Japanese media outlets, including the Nikkei daily, but they were never officially substantiated by Honda -- until now. The company's CEO, Takanobu Ito, now admits that he would consider developing EVs for American, European, and Japanese markets. That's not saying that he or Honda are, in fact, developing those vehicles; simply that they might. Still, that's a big step for Honda.
You might recall that Honda has resisted the lure of battery-powered EVs for some time, insisting that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are the way of the future -- and in fact, the company has devoted significant time and energy to its Honda FCX Clarity fuel-cell sedan (pictured above). However, rollout of the hydrogen infrastructure has been slow, which doesn't bode well for the immediate future of fuel-cell vehicles. Said Ito, "There is no change to my view that hydrogen fuel-cell cars will in the end be proven the best ... (but) electric vehicles will also be a core option for cars in the future."
This is an important technological moment for Honda. The company's 2010 Honda Insight hybrid made a big splash when launched amid claims that it would trounce its closest competitor, the Toyota Prius. Unfortunately, those boasts haven't played out so well for Honda, and now the company is looking to regain some ground on the tech field.
Although it may be a bitter pill for Honda to swallow, entering the battery electric vehicle market -- at least for a while -- is likely unavoidable. With nearly every major automaker prepping at least one BEV for launch within the next three to five years, staying out of the segment altogether would be a very risky gamble for Honda. Granted, the gamble could pay off if Honda invests even more R&D money into fuel-cell vehicles, and if hydrogen fuel cells really do become the choice of future drivers. But is Japan's number two automaker willing and able to lose that hand the same way it lost to Toyota on the hybrid front -- even though the Insight beat the Prius to U.S. showrooms?
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