Honda hybrid plan bets big on small cars

Honda's biggest hybrid is the Civic and future Honda hybrids are expected to be even smaller.
TOKYO — Don't expect large hybrid vehicles from Honda Motor Co. anytime soon.

The company plans to put hybrid systems into compacts and subcompacts because that's where the green technology achieves its greatest efficiencies, said Masaaki Kato, president of Honda R&D Co., the automaker's product development arm.

The strategy differs from that of Honda's rivals, which largely have been installing hybrid drivetrains in luxury sedans and SUVs.

Toyota Motor Corp. is making its next-generation Prius, due for the 2010 model year, bigger than the current one. Toyota also will debut a new Lexus hybrid at the Detroit auto show in January.

Nissan Motor Co.'s first in-house hybrid will go into an Infiniti, and Ford Motor Co. and General Motors have focused on hybrid SUVs and pickups.

Honda's biggest hybrid is the Civic. And in the future, it's all about getting smaller.

Next year, Honda will launch a hybrid that will be smaller than the Civic. After that, an even smaller sports hybrid, the CR-Z, arrives. Around 2012, a hybrid Fit will be added.

Any chance of revisiting the Accord Hybrid or rolling out something bigger?

"Not in the near future," says Kato.

Honda is still stinging from the lackluster sales of its Accord Hybrid, which featured a V-6 gasoline engine and was pulled at the end of the 2007 model year.

Kato says hybrid systems are best used in small cars because small hybrids most often are used for city driv-ing, where regenerative braking constantly recharges the batteries.

"Cars that drive stop-and-go are most suitable to hybrid technology," Kato said.

The first test for its hybrid strategy comes in April, when Honda launches its highly anticipated dedicated hybrid to take on the Prius. The car will be priced below the Prius — and, not surprisingly, it will be smaller. 

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com

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