As expected, Honda announced that it would get into electric cars and plug-in hybrids today, effectively becoming the last major car company to go electric. But it also went further by announcing plans in other product lines. Some of the highlights:
--The company will introduce electric motorcycles into advanced and emerging nations. While Honda didn't provide specific details or release years, it's a significant announcement. To date, the electric motorcycle market has been largely controlled by start-ups like Mission Motors and Zero Motorcycles. (see zany test drive here.) Large manufacturers have not been that interested. During a panel discussion sponsored by the Japanese External Trade Organization earlier this year, Mission CTO Jit Bhattacharya told me that the company had begun to work with Chinese motorcycle makers but the Japanese makers still seemed uninterested in the market. Few even showed up to enter electric bikes into races. Honda's announcement could change that.
--Honda will also have an electric bike in 2011 in China. Electric bikes look somewhat dorky (see embarrassing test drive of one below.) but they are quite fun if you ignore how you look. In China, particularly pancake flat Beijing, they are a handy way to get around.
--The next generation Civic hybrid will come with lithium ion batteries. Currently standard hybrids employ nickel metal hydride batteries. So expect to see a bump in performance. Less than two years ago, hybrid makers maintained that lithium would eventually get into hybrids but that it would take a lot of work. The batteries will come from a joint venture between Honda and GS Yuasa. The company will also come out with a Fit Hybrid in Japan and other hybrid models.
--A plug-in hybrid platform for mid-sized and larger vehicles is under development. Cars will start to come out in 2012 in Japan and the U.S.
--A full electric vehicle will come out in 2012 for Japan and the U.S. So far, the strategy for cars shares similarities with Ford's strategy. Ford is also emphasizing hybrids, plug-ins and all-electrics. By contrast, GM and Nissan are more focused on a single technology.
--Fuel cell development will continue. Cough.
-- And like Ford and Audi, a substantial amount of work will also go into more energy efficient gas and diesel engines. A car with a smaller diesel engine will hit Europe in 2012. (No word on whether the car will have an opposed piston/opposed cylinder engine like those touted by EcoMotors and Achates Power.) A revamped line of gas engines will start coming out in 2012.
--More solar and household products. "Honda will further advance its 'energy creation products' such as solar panels and cogeneration systems to pursue their potential as the future household infrastructure. Panasonic, Mitsubishi and Sharp have already launched major green initiatives for the home too. If this works, it could mark a bit of a comeback for Japan Inc. in the home.
--It will also develop personal mobility. Think of these as stylish Segway sort of devices. Honda, Toyota and others always show things like this off in their corporate showrooms but you don't see them on the street much. Still, it makes for good trade show photos.
Overall, an interesting day. 2012 won't put Honda that far behind. Like most major manufacturers, the main emphasis and revenue for the foreseeable future will come from gas cars. That makes the diesel and gas annoucements probably more significant in many ways. But the push into electric adds to the momentum in the market. And it gives Honda a way to accelerate its development if consumers flock to electrics.