2017 Honda Accord Hybrid, Clarity Series Show EV Commitment

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Honda is betting big on electrification as it prepares to launch the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid after a year’s hiatus and expand the Clarity vehicle to a family of sedans including fuel cell, battery electric, and plug-in hybrid variants.

The news comes as the automaker works to fulfill the mandate of its CEO for two-thirds of Honda’s global sales to be electrified vehicles by 2030.

At a news event in Detroit, John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda, said the 2017 Accord Hybrid will go on sale this spring with the next generation of the automaker’s two-motor hybrid system to provide more power and better fuel efficiency. Output is up 8 percent to 212 hp and it is expected to get 49/47/48 mpg city/highway/combined under the new EPA ratings that take effect for the 2017 model year and reflect changes that lower most results.

The hybrid was discontinued for the 2016 model year as Honda moved Accord Hybrid production from Marysville, Ohio, to Sayama, Japan. The move to Japan, which has a more robust supply chain, should enable Honda to double Accord hybrid sales from 2014 when hybrid components were in short supply.  “Our target is to more than double sales from the 14,000 units in 2014,” Mendel said.

The more surprising announcement is that the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle will be the genesis for a series of Clarity five-passenger sedans. The fuel cell variant recently went on sale in Japan last month and will be offered in the U.S. late this year with a range of 300 miles and a refueling time of 3-5 minutes. It will rely on the 15 hydrogen stations now in California which will grow to 20 in two months and 100 by 2020, said Steve Center, vice president of Honda’s Environmental Business Development and Product Regulatory Office.

The Clarity Fuel Cell will be followed by an all-electric Clarity next year that will launch in California and other states still to be determined. By the end of 2017, Honda will add the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid that can go 40 miles before the extended range kicks in. That car is expected to be the volume leader.

So far the only pricing known is the roughly $60,000 for the Clarity fuel cell. None of the Clarity models will be built in the U.S.

Adding a Clarity plug-in in 50 states negates the need for an Accord plug-in because they are similar-sized five-passenger cars, Mendel said.

But the Clarity rides on a different, dedicated platform. The idea was to offer a single platform flexible enough to offer three alternative powertrains under the same hood, Mendel said. The fuel cell was the challenge but the new Clarity has a fuel cell stack that is 33 percent more compact than its predecessor yet increases power density by 60 percent. The whole package was reduced to about the size of a V-8 engine to fit into the engine bay.

The idea was to move Clarity and alternative powertrains into the mainstream, Mendel said. “This is not a one-off. It is not a science experiment.”

He would not say if Acura would use the platform in the future.

Mendel said low gas prices are not conducive to electric vehicle sales now, but they will not stay low forever and he is convinced that the Clarity line will become a volume series for Honda over the long term. It is part of a larger plan to add plug-in variants of virtually all models in the Honda lineup in the future.

And while Honda is one of only two automakers currently meeting its federal fuel economy targets without the benefit of credits or offsets, Mendel does not want to rest on his laurels. He is convinced the new Accord Hybrid will retain its status as segment leader for fuel economy. The Accord hybrid would have been listed as getting 50/45/47 mpg under the old regulations.

Styling follows the updates to the conventional Accord but the hybrid gets blue accent headlights and taillights as well as hybrid badging. It will be marketed as the top of the line model within the Accord family and be offered in three trim levels. Pricing has not been announced but is not expected to deviate much from where it left off for the 2015 model.

Meanwhile, Honda is pleased that the Accord remains the mid-size car bestseller and that Honda as a whole has increased U.S. sales without resorting to fleet sales and incentives like many of its competitors. Honda’s incentive spending was down 9 percent last year when the industry was up 5 percent and the automaker is spending 18 percent so far this year when the industry is up 18 percent, he said. And Honda is almost totally reliant on retail sales while Ford in March reported nearly 40 percent of its U.S. sales were to fleet customers. “Our success comes despite a market place increasingly awash in fleet sales, subprime and extended-term loans and other gimmicks,” Mendel said.