LOS ANGELES - The last Honda EV Plus electric vehicle has been produced, and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. will lease it within the month, a Honda official said last week.
Arrival this fall of Honda's V V hybrid car hastened the end of EV Plus production in Japan, said Robert Bienenfeld, manager of alternative fuel vehicles sales and marketing for American Honda Motor Co.
'We had limited production goals in mind from the beginning for EV Plus,' he said. 'It was not meant to be mass-market material. The real question, if we were to keep selling the EV Plus, would be, 'Are we moving forward? Are we advancing the technology?' And the answer would be 'I think not.''
Honda's decision comes as several other automakers appear to be changing their research and development focus from the limitations and slow sales of battery vehicles to more promising fuel cell or hybrid technologies. However, General Motors, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Nissan North America Inc. all said their electric-vehicle lease programs will continue.
Like other electric vehicles on the market, the Honda EV Plus suffers from a lack of range and the inability to be recharged quickly. The V V hybrid, a combination of a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine and an electric motor, can run on unleaded gas yet gets 70 mpg.
Since starting production three years ago, Honda has leased about 300 EV Plus vehicles in the United States, meeting its zero-emissions target mandated by the California Air Resources Board. Honda also leased about 20 EV Plus units in Japan and five in Europe. The first of the leases expires this fall. By contrast, Honda hopes to sell 5,000 V Vs worldwide annually.
Although Honda researchers will run EV Plus mules with batteries more advanced than the current nickel-metal-hydride package, there is no chance that a lithium-ion - or any other battery - version will be built for public consumption, Bienenfeld said.
Bob Cross, California Air Resources Board division chief, was disappointed that Honda has dropped the EV Plus.
'I wish they'd keep it out there because it's such a great car,' he said. 'But they met the mandate, and took care of what they needed to do. I guess with the cost of the car and the limits of the technology, they aren't interested in leasing any more vehicles.'
The California board requires that, starting in 2003, 10 percent of all vehicles sold in California by volume producers must be zero-emissions vehicles. While the EV Plus is a zero-emissions vehicle, the V V qualifies only as a super-low-emissions vehicle, which gets substantially less clean-air credit.
Honda will build the V V on the production line that built the EV Plus at its plant in Tochigi, Japan. That plant also produces the Honda S2000 roadster and the Acura NSX sports car. The EV Plus was the only vehicle at the plant that used steel construction; the others use aluminum.
TOYOTA, GM PUSH ON
Conversely, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. will continue to lease its RAV4 EV to fleet customers. Toyota already has exceeded the 322 electric-vehicle leases required by the California Air Resources Board mandate. The total is 507 to date nationwide. Toyota wants to lease 1,000 electric vehicles by the end of next year, said Mark Amstock, Toyota national alternative fuels planning manager.
'We will stay focused on fleet sales. There are still significant limitations to leasing the vehicles to consumers, so we're a bit away from meeting retail expectations,' Amstock said. Toyota plans to put its hybrid Prius on sale nationwide in about a year.
Likewise, General Motors will continue to lease the EV1 coupe and S10 electric truck.
However, GM again has pushed back the availability date for nickel-metal-hydride batteries for the EV1, saddling consumers with lead-acid batteries, the lowest-tech form of electric transportation. GM has not said when the new battery will be available, even though it was promoted more than a year ago.