Honda Tokyo Motor Show Summary: All Hail Electric Cars!

Honda just announced an overview of their display on the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show, and what an overview it is. Like any all Japanese automaker in the show, hybrid and electric cars are making a strong showing… Too strong for my taste actually, but thank goodness Honda have some traditional gas burning ass kicking cars in the show as well.

Honda does bring out a slew of motorbikes, but for this entry I’m just going to cover the four wheel aspect of Honda TMS booth (I’m already ditching my lunch break to write this)… So why I’m writing a news that’s been reported to death by any online news media? Because I put in my usual witty comments and explanatory behind the news, so enjoy!

Strong Hybrid Front

Leading the charge on the hybrid front is the long waited CR-Z. Finally Honda unveils in the flesh, a near production ready CR-Z to the masses. It looks very much like the concept, albeit with toned down styling. Still though, it’s a striking model for a hybrid.

Here I am baby!

Honda dubs the car as the “fun hybrid” (actually, it’s me who dubbed it). It supposedly brings Honda “fun to drive” trait, offering driving responsiveness of a sport car to a hybrid… Honda 2007 showing of CR-Z mentions about the meaning of the term CR-Z… Compact Renaissance Zero… So is this car going to revolutionize the compact scene? It’s hard to imagine how. Honda explicitly mentions light weight on the car’s press release back in 2007, something that can be attributed to good power to weight ratio. However, with Honda most powerful compact hybrid engine producing only 115ps (Civic Hybrid)… It’s… Hard to say… Let’s just wait for its drivetrain info. Interior wise, it’s as ready as waiting the sun at 4 in the morning. You know it’s coming soon, and you know how bright the sun would be a couple hours down the road… For pictures of the interior, click the Temple of VTEC link down below.

Hot on the heels of hybrid cars, Honda unveils a 6 seater hybrid concept. Dubbed the Skydeck, the CR-Z front end look alikeness is uncanny, indicating that the car will share the same platform. Still a concept though, this car brings sensibility and load factor to a hybrid. The car features scissor front doors and below the chassis sliding door mechanism, but it will definitely be gone if the Skydeck hits the production. But seriously… Honda will definitely made this.

Call me CR-L for Long

On the electric side of anything four wheel, Honda isn’t making any ground breaking car like Nissan Leaf. Instead, Honda is bringing back the original 1986 Honda City concept, complete with a mini runabout like the legendary Motocompo. Dubbed the EV-N, this is Honda second full electric car after the EV+ that went on special lease in the United State back in 1997. The EV-N is a two door electric car that takes retro design cue to the extreme…. Extremely extreme. Now wait… Before you guys said “The car looks like an old Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper crashed together and the guy in the repair shop use too much sanding” The car is actually a homage to Honda very first compact back in the late 60’s, the N360. You can see its distinctive raised headlights and the boxy design. The original mini is more roundish than the N360.

Seriously, I want to bite this car, it’s just too cute

From the look of it, the EV-N is a Keii car with dimension similar to Toyota IQ. The rear seat seems useless for an adult, and when the front seat slides backward, there’s no legroom for the rear seats (just like the IQ). EV-N electric theme goes up to its roof where Honda installed a solar panel… I wonder if the panels is usable if at all…


Hello grandpa: The original Honda N360

The coolest thing of all is the addition of U3-X on the EV-N. Like the 1986 Honda City, the EV-N has a “mini bike” stowed on its left passenger door. Honda City own Motocompo was already a marvel in engineering, and the U3-X tops the Motocompo and bring the term mini bike to the next level. The U3-X, unveiled before Tokyo Motor Show (which I didn’t have time to write on the blog) was a marvel of engineering. Imagine segway, and now imagine a unicycle… Now what if Segway made love to a unicycle and had an offspring? You got the U3-X.

U3-X snug comfortably on the door

Like the segway, you tilt your body to move, whether it’s forward, backward, sideways… Whaaa? Sideways? Yes, sideways. Albeit it looks like the U3-X has only one wheel, it actually comprises of small diameter wheels making up a bigger wheel. When the person shifts their weight sideways, the small wheels turns towards that direction. When the person shifts their weight forward or backward, the small wheel stops and rolls around its bigger wheel. When the person wants to make a turn, all the wheels turn… All thanks to Asimo. Weird eh, how a bipedal robot contributes to a self balancing unicycle… Psych! That’s that… Asimo self balancing gyro technology is installed on the U3-X (and you call yourself a gadget website).

The U3-X and EV-N are both a comeback from 1986 Honda City. The concept is that you park your car in a public parking building and use the compact bike stowed in the car to reach your final destination.

Civic Euro Returns Home

On the fuel burning front, Honda brings back FN2 Civic Euro hatch back home to Japan, and not to mess around with Civic heritage, it’s bringing the Civic Euro Type R. It’s going to be a pretty interesting battle between the type Rs… The FN2 Euro Civic was built using the Fit/Jazz platform, meaning pedestrian level suspension (McPherson strut & torsion beam) and hangar size cabin. Suspension wise, the Euro Civic is no match for the FD2 Civic. Power wise… It’s going to be an embarrassment as the Euro Civic Type R only produces 201ps while the FD2 Civic produces 225ps at full throttle.

Still though, the FN2 Euro Civic was built not with performance in mind. It’s bringing sensibility into a performance oriented car. The Fit/Jazz platform means ULTRA seat, the amazing fold up/down mechanism of the rear passenger seating. Loading a tall or wide objects are a cinch for the Civic Euro. The engine is also tuned to deliver better midrange, rather than the high strung spine tingling limit of the FD Civic… Me? I’m choosing Euro Civic Type R…

Then we have the StepWGN… and no, there’s no vowel there after the “e”. StepWGN is Honda mid-high model of people mover above Freed and below the Elysion. It’s size rivals the Elysion, but with more utilitarian design and features. The model shown on the show will be the third generation of StepWGN ever since the car introduction in 1996. The car has gone a loooong way from its initial “commercial van” history. Well, it’s not a commercial van per se, but it looks like one, tall, dinky, and had an overly long rear overhang, the design looks forced… Maksa deh…

Looks a lot like Nissan Serena

StepWGN came with flat floor running from front to back, and the first car (ever I think) to have wood panel as a floor… Wood panel for God sakes! And a funky sunroof that runs the spine of the car’s roof from front to back (optional off course). The car truly is a fresh take on an MPV. However, the usual Honda move, the third generation StepWGN brings something better.

The third generation design though was a shocker to many. The second generation StepWGN was applauded for not looking like any MPV on Japanese road with its angular design which translated well to Honda Freed. The new StepWGN now look indistinguishable compared to Nissan Serena and/or Toyota Voxy/Noah. The boxy design is simplistic in nature like canned corned beef. It looks the same from the outside, it’s not until you brace yourself for change and try the new brand on the next shelf… Sigh… Still though, expect some surprises on the car.

There’s a third row seat there, can you find it?

The first pictures of the car show a disappearing third row seat… Completely inside the floor… It might be an old technique as USDM Honda Odyssey has it for ages, but it’s a good thing to implement on the StepWGN. The second picture that grabs my attention is the size of the car. The car length grew from 4640mm to 4690mm, a healthy 50mm. But what’s a 50mm increase right? Well… The interior space of the car grew to 3095mm from a measly 2775mm that’s 320mm increase in interior length, and that’s crazy… That’s Honda. If you find seating comfortably on the second generation StepWGN, this new third generation will make you feel like seating inside a house… Well, a small house… Okay, a studio apartment, don’t be so antsy…

So that’s that on the four wheel side. Honda also introduce a new bike, the CB1100, a retro take to the CB line. An electric scooter under the legendary Cub name, some power products and Honda walk assistant.

Source:

Honda global: Tokyo Motor Show Report

Temple of VTEC: Honda Overview Photos

Freed + Hybrid = 2011!

You read that right, Honda is going to release a hybrid version of Freed in 2011! The news couldn’t be more official than official as current Honda President, Takanobu Ito himself told Nikkei on a newspaper interview.

Here’s an excerpt from Greencarcongress.com which covers the news.

The company intends to add a variety of hybrid models in the near future, including the CR-Z, a sporty hybrid, in February and a hybrid version of its Fit subcompact by the end of 2010. For the hybrid minivan expected as early as 2011, the company plans to launch a hybrid version of its mainstay Freed.

Fuel efficiency has been what matters most in hybrid vehicles, but what is required from now on is a balance among economy, fuel efficiency and price,” Ito said, expressing a desire to offer a wide variety of hybrids to customers. In developing electric cars, Honda must first meet California’s Zero Emission Vehicle regulation, which is considered the toughest in the world, Ito said.

Honda is going full force of introducing hybrid. Beginning with Insight 2.0, Honda is introducing (finally) hybrid technology to sub compacts which should make available these fuel sippers to the masses. Fit hybrid should be a no brainer as it will come in 2010 (an old news actually, I just didn’t have the time to post it), but the news about Freed being hybridized is welcoming news indeed. The Fit hybrid should cater to the newly weds, and the Freed hybrid caters to the new family.

How much fuel efficient the new Freed hybrid? Nobody knows… But according to Civic to Civic Hybrid, fuel efficiency increases up to 20% on highway (according to American Honda Motor EPA rating). Now, off course the price will also get an increase as well, but by how much? 30% should be warranted, and the cost of investment buying the hybrid version should be justified in just 3 years time (I randomly pick a long safe time).

A moment of palm to the face should be warranted because… Hey, Freed uses the same driving system as Fit, right down to the gearbox. So when Fit is going hybrid, why the same driving system shouldn’t fit into the Freed?

Honda also going to officially participate in the off again on again electric car battle inthe United States. Before, it was politic that kills Honda EV+ back in 2000, and now, with a swift slap from lady serendipity… It’s politic again that brings back the electric car war. The Governator has signed California zero emission vehicle regulation that warrants fat tax deduction for zero emission vehicle… Which are electric cars by the way.

So, the million dollar and two cent question is… Will we get it? (as in we + 2009 = South East Asia). Freed, again, as of today is still in high demand in Indonesia. Waiting list has reached November, and for some colors the waiting period has reached December. So, the rest of ASEAN should wait patiently until at the very least demand cools down before Honda starts to make the Freed available in your countries… Wait, that didn’t answer the question… Okay, will we get a hybrid Freed? It depends whether we get a hybrid Fit/Jazz or not. Producing a car is simple. You cast the engine, the chassis, and the sheet metal, assemble the parts and voila, a car. With a hybrid… Not so much.

Producing or even assembling a hybrid needs another level of experience which no SE Asia countries ever met. I’ve read complaint about Hyundai H-1 driver got a mild shock because of improper battery shielding, and that’s while he was opening the driver’s door … Now imagine a shock from a hybrid battery that holds more than 10 times the charge of a regular car battery. Thus, higher care and quality control must be put in place for a hybrid to be produced or even assembled. Off course, if Honda going to make the hybrid Freed affordable, economy in scale must be put in place… And that means having SE Asia a piece of the Freed hybrid.

We’ll see what happened  when the Fit hybrid is released… If we get a Jazz hybrid, then, you know that we will get a Freed hybrid.

Source:

Greencarcongress.com: Freed Hybrid in 2011

Electric Vehicles: Forward To The Past!

We can’t ignore it anymore, alternative fueled cars are in desperate needs in the not so distant future. With mother earth’s limited oil supply, we are going to  see a steep oil price increase again once the economy has recover. Honda and Toyota effort of introducing hybrid technology in cars are still wayward in term of reception by the consumers… Mostly because of the price, but mostly because it’s still uses fuel. Logically speaking, rather than spending a US$20K  (in the United States) to buy a Honda Insight, most people can just do purchasing a Fit for US$5K less, and use that US$5K to fuel the car for years to come.

Let’s look back home here in Indonesia. Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius can be had for… Prepare… Rp. 500 Million or roughly US$50K!!! That’s more than twice the price of Yaris or Fit/Jazz! The Yaris can be had for Rp. 200 Million (US$20K), and the Fit/Jazz can be had for 220 Million (US$22K)… Let’s all relax and make a very simple calculation here…

You want me? Pay me…

My SX4 consumes around 1 Liter for 9 Kilometer (21 US MPG) of full inner city driving. With fuel price (grade 92) is hovering steady at Rp. 6500 (US$ 0.65) per Liter, I pay around Rp 300.000,00 (US$30) per week, and totaling Rp. 1.2 Million (US$ 120) per month. Considering that fuel prices might gone up in the next months because of recovering world economy, I might just bloat the number to 1.5 or Rp 1.8 Million (US$ 180) per month. Then, considering people uses a car up to 4 years (or until their lease is up), I’m  going to multiply my monthly fuel costs by 4 years (given I work somewhere near my old office, even then, 1:9 is already astronomically low)… And voila! I have to pay around Rp 108 Million (US$1008). Do mind I got the car for Rp 169 Million (US$16900), combined with 4 years of fuel, my operational and initial cost of ownership of my car is a measly Rp 277 Million (US$27700), still far less than buying a hybrid in Indonesia. So it goes to say, it’s silly to buy a hybrid, at least in Indonesia. Most people didn’t know this, they just arrogantly purchase the car to say they help the environment or crap… They certainly help made Honda and Toyota wallet grew thicker along the process.

Cheaper to own and fuel for 4 years than a hybrid… Figure it out yourself

Still though, price aside, Hybrids do return insane amount of fuel economy. Then again, it still rely on fuel… So it cannot have the “car of the future” title. One of the most hype alternative energy nowadays is the revival of electric vehicles. You take a hybrid, and lop off the internal combustion engine. Make the car plugable to any existing electrical terminal and voila! Electric cars.

Chevrolet Volt leads the way in this field. Volt is the first full electric vehicle with the biggest twist in the story as any M. Night Shyamalan movies. It is through and through an electric vehicle… But wait! It also has an internal combustion engine… Err… What’s an internal combustion engine doing in an electric vehicle? Ha! Told you it has a twist. The internal combustion engine is not called an engine because it doesn’t the drive the car, instead, it’s a generator that burns fuel to recharge the battery that propels the Volt electric engine. Crazy science! Thus, the car’s battery can be recharged through traditional home outlet, or it can be recharge along the way with its fuel burning generator.

Chevrolet claims 230 MPG or 1 Liter for 97 Kilometers for the car using US EPA estimate. Obscenely fantastic figure. But then, the Internet and automotive in general came with an uproar for the claim. Frankly I find it misleading too. Volt electric engine uses electricity (d’oh) which doesn’t equal to EPA measurement which measures a car’s fuel consumption using fuel. When the Volt is fully charged, it uses no fuel whatsoever, until the battery charge is at 30%, then the generator kicks in and recharge the battery. With that said, Chevrolet should just mention the range of the car using fully charged battery and full tank not the fuel consumption. But still, Chevrolet has the right to call the 230 MPG claim because the car after all consumes fuel (if needed), at least not as preposterous as our next subject…

A smirk of truth

Enter Nissan Leaf, a fully deck through and through electric car. It doesn’t have a generator built in like the Volt… And you know what? Nissan claims 367 MPG or 1 Liter for 156 Kilometers… Atrociously misleading for me. The car is an electric car and doesn’t use any fuel whatsoever, so why does there’s a fuel consumption estimate there? It’s just wrong. Some people (probably a Nissan fan) argue that the claim is right. You take into account the KwH to charge the car, convert it into energy equivalent of fuel and other miscellaneous number crunching few knew. Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford motor company even had a say on this fiasco. He say that the rating is meaningless and “this question devolves into madness”. Madness…

Blue madness

I call this whole Electric Vehicle phenomenon as silly. Because before the Internet was a hit in the late 90s, Honda, Toyota , Ford and even GM already had Electric Cars back in 1997 in the States. Honda EV+, Toyota Rav4-EV, Ford Ranger EV and GM EV1 was at that time the pinnacle of electric cars breakthrough. The cars wasn’t made public, rather it’s available as a special lease for very special people (and rich people) in America. The cost of lease ranged from US$399 to US$599 monthly, a very pricey lease indeed. However, like Nissan Leaf, the cars have an average of 100 Miles of range… And that’s 12 years ago (does Nissan improves anything except adding another set of door on the Leaf?).

This dinky car served as Honda advanced future projects

However, America was only graced by the might of electric cars for just a short while… Shorter still than even Honda lease plan of three years. Introduced in 1997, Honda EV+ was canceled by 1999 to be replaced by first generation Insight. But the true story behind it was far more darker.

According to HondaEV website, there’s political force in play shutting down all oil independent cars in production. Back then, the amount of battery needed to solely power electric cars are a lot, and there’s only one specific battery that is capable to power these cars, and it’s called Toyota-Panasonic EV95. General Motors, back in 1994 bought the patent rights to these batteries, and with single low blow in 2000 sell the rights to Texaco, that’s right A FREAKING OIL COMPANYGM sell alternative energy technology to a company that sells mainstream energy… Good work GM. The next move by Texaco for these oil free cars are to off course, SUE Toyota-Panasonic for the batteries, and Honda EV+ is floating around without a battery. A quote from HondaEV site couldn’t be more heartbreaking for electric car fans…

On Oct. 10, 2000, GM sold control of the patent rights needed for the EV-95 batteries to Texaco. On Oct. 16, Texaco announced it would merge into Chevron (Standard Oil). The next year, Chevron funded a lawsuit against Toyota-Panasonic et al., and the battery production line for the EV-95 batteries was halted.

Toyota paid $30,000,000 and received the right to make small batteries for the Prius, too small to plug in. Toyota shamefully made a virtue of its defeat by bragging that the Prius could not be plugged in. In reality, it was a great disgrace for Toyota to have to bow and scrape to Chevron’s unit that controlled the patents.

The HondaEV suddenly had no battery, no more could be made or sold.

Honda EV+ was left without any battery, and Toyota bows down to the pressure, making the Prius without any ability to be powered by the battery alone even after US$30 Million settlement. So folks, this is why your beloved Prius cannot operate in full battery mode, politics, not technological limit.

There’s also another barrier for entry on these electric cars, and that’s price. Back in 1997, Honda EV+ was unofficially priced at US$53900 (based on calculation of lease). Probably because it was a limited production model, as only 300 or so models produced. Still, it’s 1997 and US$53900 is nothing to sneezed at, times inflation, today the EV+ would costs around US$72000 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator). Now, Nissan hasn’t disclosed any price yet for its Leaf electric car… But do they have the technology to mass produce cheap electric technology? The thing is, battery and  high output reliable electric motors are expensive because both didn’t had its spot on the stage yet, so mass production (economy of scale) hasn’t been achieved. Electric cars will be expensive that’s for sure. At the very very very very very very very least, Nissan will have to heavily subsidize the car, and even so, personally I think Nissan would have to sell the car at US$30000… And that’s quite a lot.

Still though, does electric car is our future? If anything goes by… Yes, you can just plug it in at your home and you drive it the next morning… But it does have its own drawbacks. What do you think current electrical power plant uses as fuel? Hydro? Wind? Geo thermal? Anything renewable? Not quite. Developed countries power plants uses nuclear which produces toxic waste, and most developing countries still relies on old fashioned fossil fuel and coal. If your community is powered using renewable power source then it’s fine and dandy if you use electric cars. But what happens when your community is still powered using fossil fuel? You just hide behind all those fancy electric car gimmick and behind that all, you are still contributing to the use of fossil fuel. Nissan account this notion, that’s why they put MPG rating on the Leaf… But how they come it with the number is between Nissan, the fans, mother earth, the hippies and God.

One proposed alternative energy is to use Hydrogen, as Honda, Mercedes Benz and countless automotive company has proven with their concept cars, it is the fuel of the future. Yes, hydrogen is converted to electricity, making it somewhat an electric car allover again but still, it’s hydrogen. Any 5th grader would know, hydrogen is two part of molecule that forms water (H2O), that’s right folks, hydrogen can be extracted from water (and the last time I waddled through flooded local roads, we have lots of it). However, producing hydrogen is not easy, and in regular cases it takes more energy to produce usable amount of hydrogen through the act of electrolysis. Advance research is underway to extract hydrogen from water with the help of algae, but still usable amount extracted using this method is still a long way down.

Blue Efficiency? The car is green, get it, green because it emits water vapor exhaust…

Honda, Mercedes Benz and leading automotive makers has interest on hydrogen powered economy. Honda already even made FCX Clarity, world’s first dedicated-designed-commercially available (although only through lease) vehicle to be powered using hydrogen. Dedicated because they built a car specific to the engine, with fancy aerodynamics. Unlike Mercedes Benz ‘s F-Cell line of cars, which is an engine option on top of existing line of cars, primarily the A-Class and the B-Class (future dedicated model is coming based upon the B-Class though).

Honda FCX Clarity named 2009 Green World Car

So electric vehicles… Why forward to the past? Because technically, every known electric vehicle technology is just recycled or just improved upon from its predecessors. Nissan Leaf bull crap MPG comment aside, it has a range of 100 Miles, the same like Honda EV+ 12 years ago. The same technology can be found on FCX Clarity electric motor, taken straight from Honda EV+, although modified.

All in all, fancy terms and whatever, it’s nothing when real world driving experience falls short of the claims. Worse still, claims that are mind boggling to begin with. Nissan, stick to your GoTziRa.

Source:

Nissan unveils zero emission “Leaf”

Chevrolet “Volt” & Nissan “Leaf”  MPG claim under fire from Bill Ford

Honda EV+ complete history

US Bureau of Labor Statistic inflation calculator

Honda FCX Clarity Japanese website

Honda FCX Clarity named 2009 World Green Car