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Honda: the future. The global boss reveals all

Published: 19 June 2017

► Two-thirds of Hondas electric by 2030
► Level 4 autonomy on sale by 2025
► New focus on design, dynamics

Honda’s President and CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, has used the second anniversary of his appointment at the head of the company to unveil the company’s plan to get to pole position in the vehicle technology stakes. 

He has some interesting challenges – Honda is being squeezed both in the Asian markets and Europe, and he believes that a streamlined product plan will be central in improving efficiency. The ‘world car’ is very much on Honda’s agenda – and this is most evident in the 2017 Civic (below), which is now basically the same product, whether sold in the USA, Europe or Asian markets.

Honda Civic: a world car

‘For our global models, we like to deploy new cars as quickly as possible,’ Hachigo-san argues, when countered with the accusation that these new cars take too long to filter between markets. ‘However, models enjoying high demand do cause us problems, but we continue our efforts to shorten lead times.’

Out with diesel, more electric vehicles coming

Right at the top of his list are plans to get Level 4 autonomous cars on the roads and in your hands by 2025 – and for at least 66% of the company’s cars sold in Europe to be electrified to some degree. That target has been set globally, too, but not until 2030.

We drive an autonomous Honda

If you’re wondering where diesel fits in to these plans, Hachigo-san’s reticence to discuss them probably tells you all you need to know about their future in Honda’s universe. ‘As of now we have diesel engines, and we would like to continue having them,’ he says. 

But this is not where his priorities lie. ‘In Europe, we’re also develop electrified vehicles – we have set tough targets, and the future for us is the development of electric, hybrid and fuel cell powertrains for vehicles.’

But what type of electrified vehicle?

Honda is already producing the Clarity in PHEV, EV and Fuel cell forms, so does that mean it’s hedging its bets? Certainly, the development is happening at a feverish pace, with China getting its first bespoke EV next year. ‘That’s platform strategy,’ Hachigo-san says. ‘The 2018 Chinese model is on a bespoke platform, but global electric vehicles will all get their own bespoke platform.’

Honda Clarity

When asked which of the three electrified systems Honda thinks will win through, Hachigo chuckles. ‘That’s a tough question,’ he says. ‘Our target for 2030 is two thirds of global volumes from electric drivetrains. Of that, 50% will come from hybrid or PHEV.’

Breaking that down further, he goes on to say that out of total global volume, ‘15% will be from ZEVs. That includes BEV and Fuel cell vehicles.’ Interestingly he predicts that Honda’s core model, and therefore largest seller, will be of the plug-in hybrid variety.

‘The major model in 2030 will be the PHEV. That’s our direction,’ he says flatly.

Can Honda go it alone?

When asked whether Honda will need to partner or merge with another manufacturer, Hachigo-san simply laughs. ‘That’s not in our plan,’ he says. ‘We are not considering a capital alliance with other manufacturers. But if there is a possibility for the technical or business alliance, then we are open for those opportunities.’ 

Honda’s way forwards seems to be in cooperation with other car manufacturers. This is certainly the case with the development of electrified vehicles and autonomous vehicles. ‘We are already planning a Joint Venture with GM for the fuel-cell production, and are looking for further examples of that sort of collaboration,’ he says.

It isn’t just car manufacturers, Honda’s working with. ‘For instance, there’s a plan to establish a JV with Hitachi for electric motor production, and we’re working with Waymo on autonomous vehicles.’

It’s all going to cost... how can Honda afford it?

‘The electrification technology we have developed for our hybrids has high value and is competitive,’ he says. ‘I believe our PHEV can be an extension of existing technologies, and therefore cost-effective. 

‘The key to making this technology work is in control hardware – the most effective ways of controlling the engine and utilising the batteries.’ It’s here that Hachigo-san again mentions that he’d like Honda to work with other car manufacturers. The cost of this will be high, not just for Honda, but for everyone else, too. 

Honda NSX: a hybrid pioneer

If Honda wants to make itself more desirable, then developing new sports cars around the electrical vehicle architecture might be a good way of attracting suitors. ‘No comment,’ he says when asked about that. ‘We have the NSX and the Type R, I’ve nothing to add to that.’

Draw your own conclusions about that, was the inference – especially given the all-electric Pikes Peak Acura NSX was parked outside.

So, autonomous cars are Honda’s future?

In terms of research and development into AI and robot technology, Japan continues to lead the way. But does this give Honda an advantage getting to Level 4/Level 5 on the road?

‘In April, we established our new HGX R&D set up in Tokyo, HGX. It’s here that we’re working with external parties to meet our targets.’ 

‘Robotics, mobility and energy are the main themes for our new values heading towards 2030,’ Hachigo-san adds. It’s already running to get to the head of the pack in the existing technology set – Level 3. ‘We are working further on Honda Sensing, and keeping its development from the big picture work we’re doing on Level 4.’

Honda is already deep in discussion with various parties in the USA, most notably Waymo, and wants to be in the mix when these cars start hitting the roads. ‘Now we have to cover this very wide range of technologies – so many different approached. Some will be by us, others by other companies.’

This is all very interesting, but will these future cars be fun to own?

Again Hachigo-san laughs when asked about the ‘joy’ of car ownership. ‘It’s true that we talk a lot about the joy of mobility, and how to cherish this.’ But car ownership models are changing, with more communal travelling, which is facilitated by autonomy.

‘While we are working on such technologies, we can see that mindsets are changing, and we’re sensitive to that,’ he concludes. Honda has a fine legacy for producing interesting, technically innovative, cars, and Hachigo-san wants to keep it that way – even in uncertain times where the sands are shifting rapidly.

Read all our Honda reviews here

By Keith Adams

Editor of sister title Parkers, devout classic Citroen enthusiast and contributor to CAR

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