Better late than never, it seems, at least for Honda. The Japanese automaker is the latest to announce that it targets going 100% EV in North America — but not until 2040.
Honda will phase out internal combustion engines, including hybrids and plug-ins, it said today. Battery-electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles will reach 40% of North American sales by 2030, 80% by 2035 and 100% by the end of the next decade, according to the new plan. Other automakers are laying out similar targets. General Motors plans to abandon internal combustion engines entirely by 2035. And the Biden administration could set an all-electric target that would force Honda to speed up its planned transition.
Honda was an early pioneer in hybrid-electric vehicle technology. It introduced the first HEV to the U.S. market two decades ago in the form of the original Insight. It has been slow to embrace pure electric propulsion, however.
“Honda is targeting sales of 100% zero emission electrified vehicles in North America by 2040,” the automaker said in a statement released early Friday morning. “Toward these targets, Honda also plans to launch a series of new EV models based on a new e:Architecture, beginning from the second half of the decade.”
A slow start
Honda offers a wide selection of conventional hybrids today, along with a smaller line-up of plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs. It sells only a single battery-electric vehicle in Europe, with a second BEV planned for 2022.
It debuted a new battery car for the Chinese market at the Shanghai Auto Show this past week. The third-largest Japanese automaker abandoned a short-range, all-electric version of its Clarity model for the U.S. market in 2020 but continues to offer variants using PHEV and fuel-cell technologies.
Honda announced last year it will launch two all-electric models based on the General Motors Ultium architecture used for such models as the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq. Sales begin for the 2024 model year. Both models, Honda said, will be SUVs, one for the flagship Honda division, the other for the Acura luxury brand.
At the time the alliance with GM was revealed, Honda said those two BEVs would be designed to “support
Honda’s driving character.” It appears the automaker believes that, longer-term, it needs to develop its own, unique electric vehicle platform.
New BEV platform will debut in North America
The e:Architecture “will first be introduced to the North American market, and then to other regions of the world,” it said in its Friday statement,
Honda offered few details about the new platform. It said it will hit market in the second half of the 2020s. It is likely to adopt the same, skateboard-style architecture that has become the industry norm today. By placing batteries, motors and other drivetrain components below the load floor it lowers the vehicle’s center of gravity and also frees up space normally devoted to an engine compartment. That, in turn, offers more space for cargo and passengers.
Honda said it plans to use next-generation solid-state batteries for products based on the e:Architecture platform. That technology is currently under development but is expected to yield numerous benefits, including lower costs, greater range and quicker charging. It also will reduce the risk of battery fires, proponents claim.
Fuel-cells will remain a “pillar”
Honda emphasized in its statement that fuel-cell technology will remain “another pillar” of its EV strategy. The automaker is one of three currently selling hydrogen-powered vehicles in the U.S., though sales have been limited both in numbers and locales due to a lack of a production and distribution network. Honda said it will continue its current collaboration with GM to “realize a ‘hydrogen society.’”
GM CEO Mary Barra earlier this month suggested that 2022 is becoming the “tipping point” for the shift to all-electric vehicles. That automaker targeted 2035 for going 100% electric. Some competitors are going even faster. Exclusive brand Bentley will eliminate internal combustion technology by 2030 and parent Volkswagen appears to be on a similar path.
Regulations could be the wild card in Honda’s timetable
But global regulations could force manufacturers to speed things up. Great Britain will ban gas and diesel-only models by 2030 and allow only pure BEVs — or FCVs — by 2035. Other countries are setting similar goals.
The Biden administration plans to reverse the cuts in fuel economy targets made by the previous Trump
White House. The new president is under pressure to put in place a complete phase-out of gas and diesel as part of the aggressive climate change program Biden just announced. A dozen governors this week wrote to the president seeking a ban on internal combustion technology by 2035.
The White House has not responded. Pete Buttigieg, the new head of the Transportation Department, has sent mixed signals about an ICE phase out. But it is possible the auto industry will have to speed up electrification plans in the U.S., as well as a number of other countries, considering bans that could go into effect in the 2030s.