MOTEGI, Japan - Honda Motor Co. plans to replace its entire automobile engine lineup with new, more environmentally friendly powerplants by 2005.
The new engines will be more fuel efficient by 25 percent or more, the automaker says. And they will reduce hydrocarbon exhaust emissions by 75 percent, compared with 1995 levels.
In addition, Honda will increase its research into alternative powerplants, such as diesel engines and fuel cells.
'We remain committed to advancing internal-combustion technologies for gasoline and diesel-powered engines, while establish- ing a firm base for ... alternative sources of energy, such as fuel cells,' said Honda President Hiroyuki Yoshino.
Honda's engine plans are the latest example of the environmental one-upmanship being played out among Japanese carmakers.
Still, the across-the-board engine improvements raise the bar for the industry on environmental powerplants. No other carmaker has said it will move as aggressively to make all of its car engines more fuel efficient and less polluting.
Honda plans similar fuel-efficiency and emissions improvements for its motorcycles and power products, as well as noise reductions for its generators and other power products.
GOOD TRACK RECORD
Honda's track record in engine technology makes its targets credible. Honda's CVCC engine was the first powerplant to meet the U.S. Clean Air Act regulations without using a catalytic converter.
To be sure, the carmaker has had some missteps. At the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, Honda bragged of an engine so clean that its exhaust could be cleaner than the air surrounding the car. After running into technical glitches, though, Honda has stopped talking about its 'smog-eating' engine.
Christopher Richter, auto analyst for HSBC Securities Japan Ltd., downplayed the technical aspects of Honda's presentations.
'True technical differentiation in this industry is impossible,' he said. Noting that 'Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Nissan all have great technology,' Richter said, 'Others are always nipping at your heels.'
Rather, he said he was impressed by Honda's overall vision.
'They seem to have a solid grasp of the technical and infrastructure hurdles' facing alternative fuels, Richter said.
And while Honda 'is a company that is clearly infatuated with the technology, it still keeps a close eye on what the consumer wants,' he said.
'This company keeps both in mind best,' Richter said.
Honda's commitment to gasoline engines reflects its view of the future. Honda predicts that alternative power sources will begin to spread rapidly in cars from about 2020. As late as 2050, however, half of all autos will still be driven by gasoline, according to Honda's forecasts.
As a step toward its 2005 targets, Honda by 2002 will improve its automobile engines so that they generate exhaust emissions less than half the levels mandated by the Japanese government for 2000.
That means, by 2002, emissions per kilometer driven of less than 0.335 grams of carbon dioxide, less than 0.04 grams of hydrocarbons, and less than 0.04 grams of nitrogen oxide.
Honda displayed a 2.0-liter engine, the first in its next generation of gasoline engines, which meets those targets. It will be installed in a production car next year.
The new 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine uses light weight and variable valve timing and lift, among other technologies, to improve its performance. It does not use direct injection.
PROTOTYPES ON DISPLAY
Separately, Honda showed prototypes of a direct-injection gasoline engine and its first-ever diesel engine. It also rolled out its first public display of fuel-cell vehicles. One runs on hydrogen; another uses methanol. (See story on this page)
Honda engineers said its 1.5-liter direct-injection gasoline engine was about 10 percent more fuel efficient than Mitsubishi's gasoline direct-injection engine. They admitted, though, that Mitsubishi's version is probably less expensive, because Mitsubishi has more experience in building it.
The 1.6-liter diesel engine, using common rail technology from an unnamed outside supplier, meets the Euro-4 emissions regulations that will go into effect in the European Union from 2005.
Honda has not decided where, or whether, to build the diesel engine, said Yoshino, who spoke at a technical briefing at Honda's Twin Ring Motegi race-track complex north of Tokyo.
Honda has 'almost finished with the research,' and a decision on how to move toward production will not come for another two or three months, Yoshino said. Production of the diesel would require a completely new engine manufacturing line.