Honda Motor Co. Ltd. says it will trump plans by rival Toyota Motor Corp. to become the first automaker to sell a vehicle in the United States featuring a hybrid powertrain.
Honda announced last week that a version of the V V, a two-seat concept car to appear at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, will go on sale in U.S. dealerships in the fall of 1999 as a 2000 model.
The vehicle, whose final name has not been announced, could beat Toyota's Prius hybrid to this market by several months.
The Prius has been selling in Japan since late 1997, with 17,000 sold to date. But Toyota does not plan to import the compact sedan here until the summer of 2000.
Toyota says the V V announcement will have no impact on its timing for the Prius. 'Our plan is to continue along and launch the product when we feel it's ready for a launch in North America,' said spokesman Jeremy Barnes.
General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. also have shown hybrid prototypes, but have not committed to mass production.
The Prius and the V V are parallel hybrids, meaning they use both a small gasoline engine and an electric motor to drive the wheels. The motor is powered by onboard batteries recharged by the engine, so the vehicles never need to be plugged in to recharge the batteries.
Also, both run on gasoline and achieve between 65 and 70 mpg.
But the similarities end there.
The Prius runs for brief periods on its electric motor alone, but Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system keeps the 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine running whenever the car is in motion.
Also, the V V's transmission is a five-speed manual. The Prius uses an automatic coupled to the electric motor through a planetary gear set.
The V V is smaller and lighter. The two-door, two-seat V V uses aluminum and plastic for weight reduction. The car weighs less than 2,000 pounds, compared with 2,782 pounds for the steel-bodied Prius, which has four doors and seats for five.
The V V also is designed to meet California's Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle standard proposed for 2001. Toyota says it is engineering the Prius to meet Super Ultra Low Emissions, an even tighter proposed standard that is 75 percent cleaner than the Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle standard.