Honda goes greener with emission-free sedan

Honda is making its latest green-inspired model the emission-free, hydrogen fuel cell FCX Clarity sedan available this summer via lease in California. Photo credit: DALE JEWETT
American Honda Motor Co. snared the Union of Concerned Scientists' biennial award for greenest automaker in America in 2007 — for the fourth time in a row.

Nice run. But unlike many automakers dabbling in greener product, Honda is already moving on to phase two, with cars such as its FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell sedan, which is emission-free.

"Our commitment is more for the long term," says Barbara Ponce, manager of corporate advertising at Honda. Her job is to communicate Honda's corporate philosophy for its cars, motorcycles and power equipment, and that doesn't include bragging about every green trophy added to Honda's shelf.

"Environmental advertising is not a box to check. It's organic to the brand," Ponce says, adding that Honda's green messaging reflects its corporate philosophy and DNA.

Part of this strategic approach may come from the fact that Honda is no eco-newbie. For decades, the company has devoted r&d to advanced technologies, first resulting in early adopter vehicles such as the Insight hybrid and leading up to Honda's latest green-inspired model, the FCX Clarity, available this summer via lease in California.

The Civic GX — fueled by compressed natural gas and billed as "the cleanest mass-produced sedan on the planet" — was ranked the greenest vehicle for the fifth straight year in 2008 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The GX joined the gasoline Civic, Fit and Civic Hybrid among the council's 12 most environmentally conscious vehicles available.

Storyteller

In its advertising, Honda looks for the most compelling environmental stories to tell, Ponce says. Last fall, Honda launched a corporate site, www.dreams.honda.com, and loaded it with information about its technology, the FCX Clarity, the Asimo robot, solar efforts and an upcoming fuel-efficient, eight-seat jet.

"Consumers appreciate it when a company shares information with them and walks the walk," Ponce says.

Honda also offers the gasoline-conserving Fit and Civic small cars, which help the brand tout its long-term fuel economy commitment in ads from RPA, of Santa Monica, Calif. "Reverse your thinking" is the tag for the current Civic Hybrid, which first arrived in 2002.

Honda promoted Keep America Beautiful's Great American Cleanup through May. The automaker paired its car dealers with thousands of volunteers to beautify streets, roads and highways and awarded grants to the three organizations that collected the most litter and recruited the most helpers.

Last fall, Honda landed on top in CNW Marketing Research's consumer survey on good citizenship, as a corporation with environmentally friendly products and clean plants.

Breathing room

The carmaker also says every one of its 2007 Honda and Acura vehicles designed and assembled in North America has achieved 90 percent or greater design recyclability. The com-pany has committed to introducing more efficient gasoline, gasoline-electric hybrid and clean-diesel-powertrain technologies in the next several years.

Honda has the breathing room to concentrate on green issues, even in the industry's worst sales year in a decade.

Honda Division's new-vehicle sales in the United States rose 7.1 percent through May vs. a year ago to 590,361 units. But American Honda's upscale Acura brand saw sales fall 12.5 percent to 65,458 units.

Honda loyalists and even "die-hard Detroit buyers" have a relatively high perception of the Honda brand, says CNW President Art Spinella. And being recognized for environmental innovation builds stability in Honda's base of people who intend to buy its vehicles.

When it comes to communications, Spinella says, Honda "appears as a humble manufacturer of competent products, and it does what it does well without patting itself on the back." 

You can reach Jean Halliday at jhalliday42@gmail.com

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