Now, with stricter CAFE standards breathing down the necks of all automakers and advancements in Honda's hybrid systems, the automaker feels it's ready for prime time. "The market is mature" for alternative-powertrain vehicles, Conrad said.
The refreshed Accord Hybrid soon will be followed to market by a trio of Clarity models and the introduction of hybrid or plug-in hybrid iterations of Honda's core models.
The 2017 Accord Hybrid starts things off on the right foot, even if it is only a light refresh of the earlier model. Subtle tweaks to the 2.0-liter gasoline engine and the smaller, lighter hybrid system put the Accord Hybrid at the top of the midsize hybrid sedan segment for fuel economy, at 50 mpg city and 47 mpg highway, based on 2016 rating criteria. (Those criteria change for the 2017 model year.)
Honda put the car on sale last month and is bullish on its prospects, targeting at least 30,000 sales a year in the U.S. despite the headwinds of cheap gasoline and consumers' rapacious appetite for SUVs.
That would be a big jump from the previous Accord Hybrid, which sold 25,030 copies in 2014 and 2015 combined. By comparison, Ford sold 60,086 Fusion Hybrids and Toyota sold 70,155 Camry Hybrids over the same period.
Honda blames the previous model's low numbers on capacity issues at its Marysville, Ohio, plant and trouble getting an adequate supply of batteries from its supplier, Blue Energy Co., a joint venture between Honda and Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa Corp.
"We knew that we would have capacity constraints, and we knew that we would have battery constraints," Conrad said. "But at the time, we weren't looking to expand that production into really big numbers."
Now, the big numbers are feasible. For the 2017 model, Honda moved all Accord Hybrid production to its Sayama plant in Japan and has corrected battery supply issues, Conrad said.