Friday, October 12, 2012

Honda Mulling US Assembly For Pending Accord Hybrid

Published October 12, 2012

By Jeff Cobb

2014 Accord PHEV

2014 Accord PHEV plug-in hybrid.

Although a chief Honda engineer in Tokyo has recently said the company doubts the pending 2014 Accord Hybrid will sell in much volume, it is considering producing it in the U.S. by 2015.

North American production, said chief engineer Chitoshi Yokota to the Japan’s daily business newspaper, Nikkei Sangyo, could offset profits expected to be eroded by the yen’s strength against the dollar, and associated export costs.

"We won't be able to expand the business unless we come to be able to procure and make the battery and the motor locally, maybe around 2015," Yokota said.

The Accord Hybrid will be launched first in 2013 as a plug-in to compete with the likes of the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, Ford C-Max Energi, and other cars pending for this small but growing market segment. Later in 2013 Honda will launch its standard hybrid version.

The last time Honda offered an Accord Hybrid from 2004-2008, reported Automotive News, it did not sell well.

According to Yakota, this was because buyers could compare the hybrid variant’s cost-benefit value proposition against a traditional gasoline-engined Accord, and too often, they opted for the regular version.

In 2006, noted also the earlier generation Accord Hybrid got a luke-warm reception because it was positioned with luxury features and used the electric motor to boost already significant power for the V6 Accord to create what some called a “muscle hybrid,” that while relatively efficient, could also burn the tires when desired.

That formula flew against the pure fuel sipper mentality of a Toyota Prius, for example, and sales peaked in 2005 at 16,826 units. The Camry Hybrid also hurt Accord Hybrid sales, and the Honda's sales declined to 5,598 units in 2006 leading Honda to discontinue it June 2007.

Commenting this week, Honda’s chief engineer said mainly that hybrids like the market-dominating Prius won out because Prius shoppers did not have such a thing as a Prius with traditional gas engine to compare to as was the case with the Accord.

"In the United States, hybrid-only models are selling better," Yokota said. "It is difficult to position a hybrid variant there as it is difficult for the U.S. consumer to see the merits of a hybrid when there are both petrol and hybrid models."

What ever the case, Honda is having another go as it further seeks to join an elite new market of plug-ins, and building it along with its hybrid powertrain domestically may help profitability.

Honda’s 2014 plug-in Accord, says the company, will offer a roomy, premium technology choice with ability to run in an all-electric mode for 10 to 15 miles and estimated total range – merely a function of gas tank size – over 500 miles.


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