Honda is set to join the growing line-up of manufacturers offering a long-range battery-electric vehicle — though, in this case, it is relying on partner General Motors to bring the new Prologue model to market.
Set to debut in 2024, the Honda Prologue will be one of two BEVs set to rely on GM’s new “Ultium” batteries and skateboard-style platform. The second model will be sold through the Japanese automaker’s upscale Acura brand, Dave Gardner, American Honda’s executive vice president of national operations, said during a media background briefing.
“Leveraging strategic partners to achieve scale and mitigate initial investment requirements” will let Honda bring a competitive battery-car to market sooner than it could on its own, Gardner acknowledged, adding that, “Our zero-emission focus has begun.”
A broad shift to electrification
In April, the third-largest Japanese automaker announced a broad plan to shift to electrified vehicles in various forms, from conventional hybrids to pure battery-electric vehicles. But it also noted that it would not introduce a completely homegrown BEV until “the second half of the decade.” It will use an entirely new platform Honda has dubbed the e:Architecture.
Honda was an early pioneer of vehicle electrification. Its original Insight hybrid actually came to the U.S. months ahead of the more familiar — and, ultimately more popular, Toyota Prius. Today, the automaker offers a broad mix of electrified products, including hybrids, plug-ins and even a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, or FCV. It recently stopped selling its only BEV, a short-range version of its Clarity model.
But, like its rival Toyota, the smaller manufacturer has been cautious about embracing all-electric vehicles, pointing to concerns such as cost, range and charging times — as well as reluctant consumers.
Hybrids aren’t going away
That said, Toshiro Mibe, who became Honda’s global president and CEO earlier this year, has laid out a path to accelerate the automaker’s shift toward greener power. In the key North American market, the goal is to have all vehicles powered by some form of battery and hydrogen drive system by 2030. In turn, battery-electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles are expected to generate 40% of its North American sales by 2030, 80% by 2035, and 100% by the end of the next decade.
The ongoing reliance on hybrids and plug-in hybrids comes in contrast to some key mainstream and luxury competitors. GM, for example, “aspires” to go all BEV by 2035 worldwide, CEO Mary Barra said this year.
But the Detroit automaker’s push plays to Honda’s advantage, in this case. General Motors and Honda have a number of different joint ventures in place. The Japanese automaker invested $2 billion in Cruise LLC, for one thing. That’s GM’s San Francisco-based autonomous vehicle subsidiary. The two automakers also are partnering on fuel-cell technology.
A close relationship
In this case, GM has agreed to help Honda bring two all-electric vehicles to market. The Detroit automaker will play lead in the powertrain development of both the Honda Prologue and the yet-unnamed Acura BEV. The Japanese company will focus on exterior and interior design, Gardner said.
The Honda official would discuss only a few details about the Prologue model, a full unveiling expected closer to when it goes on sale in 2024. He did note that, “We are targeting annual (sales) volumes roughly between our Passport and Pilot SUVs.”
For the first five months of 2021, Honda sold 21,941 Passport SUVs in the U.S., and 61,948 of its Pilot model. The Pilot is its best-selling sport-utility vehicle.
Honda will focus on design
While Honda isn’t offering specifics about the type of BEVs it will introduce, it is widely expected Prologue, as well as the upcoming Acura, will adopt crossover-style bodies.
The two models will be produced in North America, GM has announced. The Detroit automaker has announced plans for at least five regional battery-powered car assembly plants. The first, based in suburban Detroit, is already producing the Chevrolet Bolt and Bolt EUV models. A second is set to open in the heart of Detroit later this year and will produce larger vehicles such as the GMC Hummer and Cruise Origin. GM also is tooling up its Spring Hill, Tennessee plant to go electric, along with factories in Canada and Mexico.
The Honda BEVs will also rely on batteries produced in the U.S. The first Ultium plant will open in Lordstown, Ohio later this year, with a second to follow in Spring Hill. GM this month announced plans for two other Ultium battery plants.