Honda is more than just a car company. In last month’s Automobile Magazine, Jean Jennings summarizes the countless Honda products owned by the Automobile team, saying “You’ll see from the following list that most of us feel an affinity for things powered by Honda.” While most people know Honda as a car or a bike company, you’ll also find Honda behind robots, boats, power tools, ATVs, lawnmowers, generators… the list is endless.
Britain’s favourite motoring personality – Jeremy Clarkson - is fond of reminding people that in the past 13 years, there has not been a single known failure of the Honda VTEC unit. And as far as we know, the 2.0 motor in the outgoing S2000 still (9 years after it first went on sale) produces the highest specific output per litre of any normally-aspirated engine of a car on sale in the UK today. We in the world of Re*Move have a degree of Honda affinity too. Mark’s dad drives a Jazz, and two months ago I came within a whisker of buying a new Civic Type R – before an enforced and unexpected house move gobbled up the money instead.
So while Toyota is busy getting all the green plaudits for its all-conquering Prius, its Japanese competitor is busy trying to work out how it can wean people off VTECs and make hybrids an affordable reality for the masses. Tough one. Having arguably got there first with the original Insight, Honda’s been stung by the success of the Prius, and hit back with the look-a-like Insight. It’s a look-a-like that costs around £3000 less than its Japanese counterpart though – and although the mainstreem motoring press appear to have decided it drives poorly, our week with the car suggested it was certainly no worse than the outgoing Toyota equivalent.
However, Honda knows that if it really wants to take hybrid technology mainstream – and we'll come on to the fact that it really does – it needs to appeal to a much wider audience than those who drive the Prius/Insight shape purely for its “look at me – aren’t I green” smugness badge.
So earlier this week, Honda announced its intention to build the CR-Z. Unveiled at the Tokyo motorshow in 2007, this diminutive white coupe with the gaping beak has been Honda’s vision of how to make the hybrid appeal to people who actually like cars, which it has shown at countless motor shows over the past few years. Now it's actually going to build it, next year. And it’s part of a wider strategy by the company to hybrid-ise its line up, making sure a much higher proportion of the cars it sells in future are propelled – in-part – by batteries. Prior to the announcement on the CR-Z being made public, we sat down with John Kingston – Honda UK’s Government affairs and environment manager to get the full low down on Honda’s plans. What he has to say makes for interesting watching:
While the hybrid car is currently looked on as the automotive equivalent of mogadon, to see Honda attempt to push it into a ‘sports car’ bracket will make for interesting times. While it uses essentially the same drive-train as the distinctly unsporty Insight, Honda promises that the CR-Z will be much a more entertaining, zestful experience – one which pays worthy tribute to the revered CR-X whose styling and conception it references. Yet it's unlikely it’ll rev to 9000 rpm, and give you that adrenalin rush (and forward momentum kick) as it passes 6k, as the Type R or S2000 do today. That leads many to be cynical that this company, so famed for its engines, can make a hybrid sports car work. But we remain hopeful. In a sign that Honda still has a firm eye on making cars that are fun to drive, Takanobu Ito became the company's new CEO and President last month. Unlike so many car companies today, he does not come from the purely financial or management side of the business - he’s a chassis designer.
Posted by Joseph Simpson on 16th July 2009