It’s probably only a matter of time before all global car manufacturers set a self-imposed deadline for phasing out the internal combustion engine in favor of a zero-emissions future. Last week, Japan’s Honda joined the growing list of brands which have already set a specific time horizon for weaning themselves off fossil fuels.
Honda says it will stop selling gasoline powered vehicles entirely by 2040, while setting interim goals along the way. By 2030 it expects 40 percent of global sales to be battery electric, or fuel cell vehicles, rising to 80 percent of sales by 2035.
Furthermore, by 2050 the company’s new CEO, Toshihiro Mibe, said Honda would “strive to realize carbon neutrality for all products and corporate activities.”
With the notable exception of Nissan, which introduced the electric LEAF over a decade ago, Japanese car giants like Toyota and Honda are playing catch-up when it comes to a commitment to all-electric vehicles. In a way this is surprising since both companies were the first-movers in fuel-efficient gasoline-electric hybrid technology.
The success of Toyota’s Prius is a testament to the fuel-efficiency opportunities hybrids brought to car owners around the world. But as with Toyota, Honda saw greater potential in hydrogen fuel-cells than battery-electric vehicles: a technology, which so far, hasn’t gained significant traction.
That’s not to say Honda hasn’t dabbled with EVs, too, in the past but it has never really demonstrated a particular strategic approach to the technology before. In 2014, Honda adapted its globally successful subcompact hatchback car, the Fit, and introduced an all-electric version, exclusively leasing 1,100 of them in a handful of U.S. states. Though a competent enough offering for the time, it was essentially a “compliance car,” built to meet California’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate and by now, they’ve all been subjected to a recall.
More recently, Honda sold an all-electric version of its larger Clarity model but axed the EV only variant for model year 2020, quite possibly due to its lackluster 89-mile range, one entirely inadequate by current standards. Today, the Clarity lives on as a plug-in hybrid and, staying true to faith, as also a fuel cell-powered car (shown above).
In other markets last year, Honda launched the cute E city car, which unfortunately U.S. buyers won’t be able to get their hands on. Though it could have done well in the U.S. within certain urban centers, it most likely wasn’t destined to come to these shores due to its limited range and diminutive packaging.
So, the bottom line is that Honda currently doesn’t sell an EV in North America.
In order to recover ground in North America rapidly, Honda’s new strategy in the EV market will see the release of two SUVs for the 2024 model year. One will be sold under the Honda brand, while the other will wear the company’s premium Acura logo. In both cases, Honda will partner with General Motors for these vehicles, which will utilize GM’s Ultium EV platform.
Thereafter, Honda expects to develop its own EVs towards the late 2020s under their so-called e:Architecture platform. At least 5 trillion Yen (46-plus billion dollars) of investment will be directed towards Honda’s electrification and fuel-cell technology over the next six years as the company moves towards its 2040 goal.
A part of this effort will also focus on Honda’s motorcycle portfolio, where the company plans to invest in motorcycle electrification, too. This could be hugely impactful in global markets where motorcycles offer essential transportation opportunities for large urban populations.
Notably, this new electrification push by Honda shows a significant course correction for the company. Less than two years ago, Honda’s former CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, said in an interview with Automotive News that EVs will not become mainstream anytime soon. Arguably, full electrification by 2040 is not imminent; after all, it’s still 19 years away. But two years on from this reticent position, and with new leadership in place, the company clearly understands it needs to rapidly make plans for the global shift to EVs.
Image credit: Honda Clarity web site
Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.