September 5, 2008 – Vol.13 No.24
NEW HYBRID INSIGHT FROM HONDA;
NEW HYBRID INSIGHTS FROM BOSCH.
Honda’s Insight was the first hybrid sold in America: Many of the diminutive, aerodynamic and highly fuel efficient 2-seat coupes are still on the road. The car introduced in 1999 is now out of production.
Now Honda has brought the name back. Though Honda calls the new Insight a concept vehicle, it’s really the new production hybrid that will be in US showrooms by the spring of 2009.
Like the original Insight - but not like the Civic Hybrid (which will continue to be produced) - the new hybrid will be purpose built; designed as a hybrid from scratch. Honda learned its lesson from Toyota: Hybrids sell better when they’re purpose-built, thus distinctive from other cars. When you see a Prius on the road you see a hybrid. A Civic Hybrid doesn’t stand out.
Honda says the new Insight will bring something new to the growing hybrid market: greater affordability. The company is not setting a price just yet; Honda says the new car will be set at “ a price significantly below hybrids available today.”
Unlike the original Insight, the new car will have seating for five with four doors and a hatch. Those wanting a sportier hybrid will have wait for a production version of the CR-Z, a Honda show car. That two-seater is expected to be introduced soon after the Insight.
Honda plans to build 200,000 Insights per year with 100,000 for US drivers. Eventually Honda thinks it can sell 500,000 hybrids a year, or more than 10 percent of its total worldwide annual automobile sales.
The new Insight represents the continuing market growth for hybrids. If Honda’s predictions are correct and they can sell 500,000 hybrids a year, their goals will be in line with what automotive supplier Robert Bosch Corporation has to say about the vehicular technology.
Bosch believes that by 2015 more than 3 percent of the 91 million vehicles expected to be produced that year will be hybrid, plug-in hybrid or pure battery electric. Three percent may not sound like much but it’s also more than 2.7 million vehicles, enough of a market for Bosch to invest in the technology. And, look again at the sentence above: conventional hybrids will be sharing the road in 2015 with plug-in hybrids, and pure electric vehicles in seven years.
Bosch thinks that hybrids will continue their evolution the current combination of combustion engine and electric motor to plug-in hybrids then on to electric vehicles with a combustion engine on board as a range extender. For local trips the range extended electric vehicle will plug into the grid for regular recharging. On long trips the combustion engine will keep the battery charged, but not drive the vehicle. (This is one possible configuration Chevy’s Volt might take. GM’s all electric EV-1, when produced, was also considered for a range-extender option.)
The range extended vehicle has a significant appeal over other designs: it’s relatively simple. Under the hood there’d be only electric drive connected to a battery pack. The combustion engine – the generator – would be separate and connected to the battery pack by wire and electric controls. (It could be placed anywhere in the vehicle, opening up new ideas in vehicle design. Conceivably the generator could be an option for buyers as well as an add-on later in the vehicle’s life.)
Being designated as generator only will allow the combustion engine to be even cleaner and more efficient. Engines operating in a narrow bandwidth of power can be tuned to operate more cleanly and efficiently than those operating in a wide power range.
Biofuels, even hydrogen, could be fuel options, of course.
Bosch thinks that in the long term pure electric drive will displace conventional hybrids, even Honda’s new Insight, and drivers will become accustomed to recharging every 60 - 120 miles (100 - 200 kilometers).
Bosch is putting its money where its predictions are and has started a fifty-fifty joint venture with Samsung SDI to develop, manufacture, and sell lithium-ion batteries for automotive applications. SB LiMotive Co. Ltd, plans to start series manufacturing of battery systems customized to automotive requirements and to market them worldwide in 2011. Together the companies will invest between $300 - 400 million in the next five years to build the new company.
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