Honda's Fukui Confirms V-8, Gives Vocal Support to U.S. Fed Loans

October 20, 2008
2009 Acura RL

2009 Acura RL

Long the automaker that has stuck resolutely to its frugal fours and sixes, Honda surprised some today by announcing the impending launch of a V-8 according to Automotive News. The upcoming engine, which CEO Takeo Fukui claimed is sorely needed under the hood of its flagship Acura RL sedan, is partially in response to the brand's 15.3 percent sales decline through September. He did not comment as to whether the engine would make its way into other vehicles, but the Odyssey minivan and Pilot SUV seem like possible targets.

Fukui admitted that the RL's current 3.7-liter V-6's power is insufficient, saying that Acura cannot compete with other premium brands that offer torque-rich V-8s (BMW 550i, Cadillac STS, Lexus GS460, Mercedes-Benz E550) that American luxury drivers prefer. Interestingly, he said this proposed V-8 will "be completely different from conventional, past-generation ones and have excellent fuel efficiency" (qtd. in Automotive News). This leads us to wonder what fuel-saving measures will be employed on this engine; turbocharging, direct injection, cylinder de-activation, diesel fuel (doubtful), or perhaps a combination of the above? Or perhaps some type of mild hybrid, re-generative braking, or engine stop/start technology that automakers like BMW are gradually adopting as even luxury drivers cry for greater efficiency.

Fukui also commented that he is in favor of recent U.S. Federal Government decision to offer low-interest loans to struggling U.S. automakers. While claiming that he does not intend to take advantage of the loans (technically Honda could receive a portion of the loans, as it produces vehicles in the United States), Fukui fears a backlash against foreign automakers like Honda if any of the Big Three fail. Additionally, the low-interest loan guarantees indirectly help companies like Honda by lending support to U.S. parts suppliers that play a role in the manufacture of its cars.

Is Honda wise to bow to market forces and give power to the people in the midst of a market downturn and a switch to more economical vehicles? Can the company maintain its smart, frugal image epitomized by vehicles like its popular Fit while simultaneously going to market with eight cylinders? How would you proceed in Fukui's situation?--Colin Mathews

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