A made-in-America hybrid Accord coming in 2015?

Honda sees a challenge in marketing a hybrid variant of a car that also comes with a traditional gasoline powertrain. Pictured is the 2013 Accord.
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TOKYO -- Honda is having another go at a hybrid Accord.

But when the two-motor plug-in electric-gasoline sedan arrives in the United States early next year, volumes will be small.

The reason: The hybrid version of the Accord will be made in Japan -- and the yen's strength against the dollar takes a big bite out of export profits, chief engineer Chitoshi Yokota told Japan's Nikkei Sangyo business daily.

Now Honda has a solution: Start building the hybrid system stateside. Yokota says that could be as early as 2015.

"We won't be able to expand the business unless we come to be able to procure and make the battery and the motor locally, maybe around 2015," Yokota told the newspaper.

Another challenge, he said, will be selling a hybrid variant of a car that also comes with a traditional gasoline powertrain.

Honda sold the Accord Hybrid from 2004 to 2008. It was discontinued because the added price premium didn't justify the relatively meager improvements in fuel economy.

When a car is a stand-alone hybrid with no gasoline variant to benchmark against, such as the Toyota Prius, such comparisons don't work against sales and marketing efforts.

"In the United States, hybrid-only models are selling better," Yokota said. "It is difficult to position a hybrid variant there as it is difficult for the U.S. consumer to see the merits of a hybrid when there are both petrol and hybrid models."

Honda hopes its completely revamped two-motor hybrid system will change that equation. The plug-in version arrives in early 2013 with a standard hybrid coming later in the year.

The plug-in starts up in electric vehicle mode and can drive for 10 to 15 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in.

It is expected to have a range of greater than 500 miles with a miles-per-gallon equivalent of greater than 100.

Yokota pledges the plug-in will achieve top-of-class fuel economy among plug-ins, a group of vehicles that presumably includes even the smaller Chevrolet Volt and Prius Plug-in.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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