Honda's John Mendel: Hybrids don't make economic sense.
Last week the state of California agreed to subsidize home refueling devices, which allow drivers to fill their fuel tanks with natural gas at home.
"I think this is huge," John Mendel, senior vice president of automobile operations of American Honda Motor Co., said in an interview.
Honda says it is the only company that sells a natural-gas vehicle to individual consumers in the United States. But the vehicle, the Civic GX, is more expensive than a standard Civic.
Natural gas refueling stations are not widely available. Still, Mendel sees promise.
"If this is a direction consumers accept, nothing is off the table" regarding how many Honda and Acura vehicles will follow the GX, he says. "We'll do hybrids as it makes sense, but I do not think they are the best solution. Right now hybrids don't make sense economically."
Honda sells three hybrid cars: the Insight, Civic Hybrid and Accord Hybrid. Hybrids use a gasoline engine and one or more electric motors to power the wheels.
The complicated hybrid powertrain prompts automakers to charge consumers a premium. The base Civic Hybrid costs $2,390 more than the Civic EX, the top-of-the-line gasoline-powered Civic.
|How Civics stack up|
|The Civic GX, powered by natural gas, is the most expensive Civic.|
|Civic GX||Natural gas||$21,425||30/34|
|*Includes destination charge|
|Note: Equipment varies by model|
Honda started leasing its home natural gas refueling appliance, called Phill, to consumers in April at an average cost of about $69 a month. The California subsidy brings the monthly cost down to $39.
Phill can be mounted to an interior or exterior wall and is connected to the homeowner's natural gas line. Honda says it costs about $13 for a GX fill-up, although its range is only 200 miles. A standard Civic can go about 450 miles on a $29 fill-up.
The GX is less fuel-efficient than the gasoline-powered Civic or Civic Hybrid. Still, Mendel thinks the GX is a better deal.
"It's cleaner, you can use the car pool lane (in California), and you don't have to go to the gas station," he said. "This is a hell of a lot better deal for the consumer than hybrids."
Honda is testing Phill leases with about 500 consumers in California. Mendel says the company will monitor the test program and may expand it to other states.
You may e-mail Kathy Jackson at [email protected]