Honda Expands Clarity Lineup With PHEV, EV

The new Clarity-based series of cars will inform development of electrified versions of core models going forward.

April 21, 2016

5 Min Read
Clarity fuelcell car on sale late 2016 EV PHEV due 2017
Clarity fuel-cell car on sale late 2016, EV, PHEV due 2017.

DETROIT – Honda’s new Clarity fuel-cell car due in the U.S. later this year will be the basis for plug-in hybrid-electric and battery-electric variants going on sale in 2017.

The PHEV is slated to achieve 40-miles-plus (61-km-plus) of electric range and have extended-range technology.

“Think of it as a trim strategy within the brand name of the car,” John Mendel, executive vice president-American Honda, tells media here when asked if Clarity is becoming a sub-brand within Honda.

Expanding on one green car to make others is similar to what Toyota has done with the Prius and Hyundai is doing with the all-new Ioniq hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric hatchbacks, however neither of those lineups offer an FCV.

Toyota’s FCV is the Mirai sedan, and Hyundai’s is a fuel-cell version of its Tucson compact CUV.

While Honda has struggled with green-car sales in the past, launching and killing two generations of Insight hybrids and an Accord PHEV due to slow sales, Mendel believes this time Honda has hit on the right strategy.

“This is a platform-developed range of vehicles that is dedicated to an alternative fuel source, with a no-compromise package,” he says of the globally developed Clarity’s midsize, 5-passenger status. “It’s not taking an existing model and trying to retrofit something to it.”

Mendel says the Clarity will inform the development of future Hondas, as the automaker wants to have electrified versions of its core models and is prepping its manufacturing plants to handle that goal.

CEO Takahiro Hachigo targets two-thirds of the automaker’s global sales to be made up of electrified models by 2030, putting pressure on Honda regional bosses to increase their green-car sales even while low fuel prices are persuading buyers to gobble up light trucks in record numbers.

Mendel, a longtime skeptic of the light-trucks-are-unstoppable storyline, notes: “Fuel isn’t going to stay at a $1.59 forever.”

The automaker is keeping under wraps most powertrain specifications for the PHEV and EV, but Mendel reveals the PHEV’s range extender technology is “a little bit different” from the Chevrolet Volt’s, which uses a small gasoline engine to power the car’s 18.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack once electricity from a grid charge is depleted.

The second-generation Volt has an electric-only range of 53 miles (85 km), up from 38 miles (61 km) in its first generation.

In keeping with an earlier promise, Honda will sell the Clarity PHEV in all 50 states, while the Clarity EV and FCV initially will be relegated to California, where regulations prod green-car implementation and there currently is the most robust hydrogen-refueling network in the country.

Steve Center, vice president of Honda’s Environmental Business Development office, says the Northeastern U.S. may be a potential next step for the FCV.

Air Liquide in partnership with Toyota is developing a hydrogen infrastructure in the Northeast, with the first four of 12 planned stations slated to open early next year in Hartford, CT; Braintree, MA; Mansfield, MA; and Bronx, NY.

Meanwhile, Center says 100 hydrogen stations should be open in California by 2020. Roughly 40 hydrogen refueling stations are expected to be open by the end of this year in the Golden State.

Accord Hybrid Changed

Honda for ’17 is refreshing its Accord Hybrid, giving the car the same styling tweaks, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems and standard advanced safety technology as refreshed non-hybrid Accords receive, all while squeezing more performance and fuel economy out of the car’s 2-motor hybrid system.

Honda also adds hybrid-unique aluminum wheels and LED lighting to the ’17 Accord Hybrid, which see its total system output rise to 212 hp, up 16 hp from ’15. There was no ’16 Accord Hybrid, as Honda transferred production of the car from Ohio to Japan.

The ’17 hybrid’s fuel economy is estimated at 49/47/48 mpg city/highway/combined (4.8-5.0-4.9 L/100 km).

The ’15 Accord Hybrid is rated at 47 mpg combined, and Honda officials say they could have achieved 50 or 51 mpg (4.7 or 4.6 L/100 km) if it were not for revised EPA requirements for ’17.

To bring fuel economy ever closer to real-world scenarios, window sticker ratings now must factor in increased usage of fuel-draining air-conditioning and heating systems, as well as higher speeds.

The ’15 Accord Hybrid already bested the combined ratings of other mass-market midsize sedans (Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid).

However, its fuel-economy supremacy didn’t result in segment sales leadership. WardsAuto data shows the Accord Hybrid placed fourth among those nameplates in U.S. sales last year, with 11,063 deliveries.

The Camry Hybrid was the best-selling hybrid D-car in 2015, tallying 30,640 units. The Sonata Hybrid was second (20,482) and the Optima Hybrid third (11,853).

The Sonata Hybrid, which debuted its second generation last summer, is leading the Camry Hybrid in Q1, 4,710 deliveries to 4,601.

With the Accord Hybrid sitting out the ’16 model year, sales fell 92.6% in the first quarter of this year to 190 units.

Mendel says with the refreshed model, American Honda wants to more than double the Accord Hybrid’s best annual U.S. volume. The car racked up 13,977 deliveries in the U.S. in 2014, WardsAuto data shows.

“We are targeting a significant increase in sales based in part on a market-leading condition and improved supply situation,” he says, referring to difficulties Honda had securing sufficient batteries for the ’14 and ’15 Accord hybrids which limited their production.

The Accord is not No.1 among midsize sedans in the U.S. this year, trailing the Toyota Camry 77,073 to 96,244 in Q1 sales. However, it has had the biggest increase of any high-volume midsize car in the period, up 12.3% over year-ago.

“And that really comes in a segment that is down 3% for the year and where most competitors are relying increasingly on very heavy fleet sales,” Mendel says.

The ’17 Accord Hybrid goes on sale this spring in the U.S., with pricing similar to that of the ’15 model, which ranges from $29,305-$35,055.

Mendel doesn’t completely rule out a next-generation Accord PHEV but says Honda will have to decide if the midsize Clarity sufficiently fills the void left by the departure of the first-gen model.

The Accord plug-in had a 13-mile (21-km) electric range, below the Hyundai Sonata PHEV’s 24 miles (39 km) and the Ford Fusion Energi’s 21 miles (34 km).

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