TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co. unveiled a sleek new concept of its upcoming hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle on Sunday, but promptly delayed its launch as part of a global quality review in the wake of a series of embarrassing product problems.
Honda had previously said the environmentally friendly car would go on sale in Japan and the United States in the 2015 calendar year. It now aims to introduce the car to Japan by the end of March 2016 and bring it to the U.S. and Europe afterward.
Honda said earlier this fall that it would review all planned product launches because of a rash of recalls plaguing the hybrid version of its redesigned third-generation Fit small car.
The carmaker has said the extra quality checks will delay by three to six months the launches of six vehicles scheduled to debut in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2015.
Now the reviews are also delaying the fuel cell vehicle.
“It’s because we are doing overall quality checks that we started due to the continuous recalls,” spokeswoman Yuka Abe said. “It’s not because this car has problems.
Other cars already being delayed by Honda include the S660 mini sports car for the Japan market; the Grace, a Japan-market hybrid based on the City sedan; the StepWGN minivan; the Legend, the Japan-market name for the Acura RLX; an N-Series minicar for Japan and another minivan that has yet to be identified.
The quality review may also delay the U.S. launch of the HR-V compact crossover to be built at Honda’s new plant in Mexico.
In October, Honda announced its fifth Fit recall in just 12 months and took the unprecedented step of appointing the company’s first quality czar to clamp down on the problems.
The carmaker’s top executives also took pay cuts for three months to take responsibility for the recall-plagued car.
President Takanobu Ito ordered a revision of the company’s r&d process that inserts a prototype earlier into the research stage to test how independently developed parts work together in a full vehicle. Before, Honda never actually pulled components together until after research was done and development underway.
The r&d redo will increase the cost and time of developing cars at Honda, just two years after a sweeping r&d overhaul aimed to speed localization and better tailor cars to local markets.
The delay is a small setback for Honda’s fuel cell project.
On Nov. 17, Ito unveiled a new closer-to-production fuel cell vehicle design, dubbed the FCV Concept. It features a low, wide aerodynamic body accented by heavily creased character lines.
Engineers delivered interior space for five occupants, instead of four as in Honda’s previous generation fuel-cell car, by devising a more compact, yet more powerful, powertrain.
Honda’s hydrogen entry is being previewed as rival Toyota Motor Corp. launches the production version of its own fuel cell car. Both Japanese automakers are turning to the water-emitting green car technology, instead of pure electric vehicles, as their long-term alternative to gasoline-powered transportation.
Honda aims to bring its car to market in Japan by March 2016 and then introduce it in the U.S. and Europe. Toyota’s car goes on sale soon in Japan and in the U.S. and Europe next summer.
Honda executives declined to give such details as a more specific launch window, price range or production volume.
But Honda says its offering will be the world’s first fuel cell sedan to fit the entire powertrain under the hood, freeing space for five seats. Toyota’s car, the Mirai, seats only four.
“The downsizing of the powertrain greatly contributed to the achievement of this,” Chief Engineer Kiyoshi Shimizu said.