Honda's new CEO on the problems with recycled carbonfibre and why he can't sell fuel cell cars

Honda's new CEO Takanobu Ito talks to Autocar about the problems with recycled carbonfibre and why he can't sell fuel cell cars.

Do you plan to give us more cars in the future with more platform sharing?

To be honest, we don’t sell a huge variety of cars in Europe. To sell a large variety would undermine our investment efficiency and impact our business. We want to respond to our customers’ needs, so for future cars we will try to offer more varied cars on the same platform and we are revisiting our development in that respect. We will try to reduce the number of platforms, but this will take time.

In Europe Toyota is seen as the green car company, despite Honda’s long history with hybrids. How do you address this?

Our European sales people are largely to blame. We tried to enhance our position with the Civic hybrid but failed. But the CR-Z and Insight will help us enhance awareness that Honda is a green car maker. We also want to introduce the FCX to Europe and have started testing here.

Talking of green technology, what happened to the clean diesels you were working on?

It was too challenging to produce a commercialised clean diesel. We got it to work at a research and development level, but we couldn’t make it work commercially. But we haven’t abandoned clean diesel research, and we’re still working on the technology.

Honda doesn’t believe electric vehicles have much of a future, yet you are working on battery-electric cars. Why?

The performance of batteries is evolving and there are possibilities. But the energy that can be stored is less than an internal combustion engine can produce, and with current battery technology electric vehicles are city commuters. But they could be used as a second car, with an internal combustion-engined car as the first vehicle. We are in the midst of considering what can be done with an electric commuter car.

Honda has, from an early stage, worked on fuel cell vehicles. Battery EVs are heavy, not fun to drive and aren’t reliable, and when it comes to cars lighter is better. FCVs are going in that direction.

So when do you think you’ll be selling fuel cell cars?

We don’t have any plans to sell them as there isn’t a hydrogen infrastructure to support them, and they would be very expensive. Infrastructure is key to the adoption of fuel cell vehicles.

And the cost?

We can do cost reduction and mass production of the technology. It’s simple to produce fuel cells; it’s the chemicals they use that cost money, along with the precious metals. But we can cut the cost of those, too.

What’s happened to the small sub-Jazz car that was mentioned last year?

The recession has caused our business to go through difficult times, and we had to revise our business plan, which has slowed development. Our priority now is to increase sales of the Jazz in Europe. But we haven’t given up on the small car. We’d like to try it in Asia first.

Would you consider a joint venture with another car maker?

I don’t imagine Honda seeking a partner. But if another car maker approached Honda, what would happen? Well, the final products coming out of the factory would have to be Honda products. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a partnership, but I can’t see a need for it now.

Volkswagen is working on recycled carbonfibre for cars. Is that something you’re interested in?

The problem with carbonfibre is that you have to bake it at high temperature and at high pressure, which is not suitable for mass production. It’s difficult to recycle, too; recycled carbonfibre can’t be reused in automobiles. That’s why I don’t think it will be used in mass-produced cars.

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9 December 2009

Civic Hybrid playing second fiddle to Prius is nothing to do with its boot and the relative market sector sizes in northern Europe, then? Compact 5-door hatches out-sell 4-door saloons by over 30 to 1, so the 4-door-only Civic was a European compromise accepted by Honda Motor for their global Hybrid from the start. No wonder Honda haven't been able to capitalise on their Hybrid pioneering on this continent.

The cut-priced Insight and next year's CR-Z (plus hybrid Jazz & next-gen Civic models) will help, but it would be great to see the maverick spirit return. Honda's at its best when it goes its own way in quantum leaps (CVCC, Fireblade, VTEC, IMA, i-CTDi diesel), rather than following the herd; unfortuately, the cautious majority rules when it comes to how quickly we can get our hands on new technology these days, so it's electric cars, plug-ins and diesels for us in Europe, and no chance of Fuel Cells unless and until everyone else has caught Honda up.

10 December 2009

Quote 'Battery EVs are heavy, not fun to drive and aren’t reliable'. That's defeatist talk for the CEO of a major car company. Especially a car company which has spent millions developing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and then has no plans to sell it because there is no infrastructure in place (doh).
Honda, are you an engineering company or not! I really do not believe that electric cars need to be unreliable. All the elements of the electric car are intrinsically reliable - the batteries, the electric motor, the power electronics. Are Honda saying that with their huge expertise in fuel cell (i.e. Electric!!) vehicles that they cannot make one which is reliable? Unbelieveable! I have lost faith in the company.

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