Honda's SHS concept gives a taste of its next petrol/electric model
8 March 2007

The main attraction on Honda's Geneva show stand was the Small Hybrid Sports Concept - a less-than-pithy name for another green-tinted Honda show car, this one hinting at the company's plans to dramatically increase hybrid production, and to bring something like the highly regarded Insight back to market.There are no plans to put the Small Hybrid Sports (SHS) Concept directly into production, although company insiders indicated that a strong positive reaction in Geneva might sway its hand. The concept's official role is to prepare the ground for the unveiling of Honda's forthcoming Toyota Prius rival later in the year; that, unlike the Civic Hybrid, will be a dedicated hybrid-only model and, by the look of this preview car, will be much more entertaining car to drive than the worthy-but-unengaging Prius.The SHS concept was engineered at Honda's European R&D Centre in Germany and features a four-cylinder petrol engine combined with an electric IMA system similar to that already offered in the Civic saloon. Like the Insight, the SHS is front-engined and front-wheel drive, and has a continuously-variable transmission. "It explores the idea that a car can have a low environmental impact," said Honda, "yet still deliver all the driving enjoyment expected of a compact sports car."The SHS's design is characterised by curvaceous and contoured surfaces contrasted with sharp 'folded' edges. Its signature cues are tiny front and rear overhangs, a windscreen that extends backwards beyond the driver's head, a full-width frontal grille and a protruding, nose-like central buttress.Particularly interesting are the wheels. They're massive for such as small car, at 20 inches in diameter, but they're surprisingly skinny too, equipped with 165/60-section tyres. Those dimensions, said Honda, support low rolling resistance without compromising grip, allowing the SHS to really hold the road as well as return impressive fuel economy. Although Honda introduced the world's first production hybrid with the Insight coupe, the Japanese firm acknowledges that it has lost its early technological lead to rival Toyota. The latter has plans in place to manufacturer up to 200,000 Priuses a year, against total production of all Honda hybrids to date of just 160,000. Its hope is that the Insight replacement, combined with sales of the Civic Hybrid and the new Accord Hybrid saloon which it offers in the US, can claw back some of Toyota's lead.

Mike Duff

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