Honda Plays Catch-Up With Electric Car, Autonomous Driving Goals

Honda Motor Co. plans to unveil its first global electric vehicle model this year and introduce fully self-driving cars around 2025 as the Japanese automaker plays catch-up in the two areas.

“We identified the introduction of electrification technologies and advanced safety technologies as our highest priorities and we are working proactively on them,” Honda Chief Executive Officer Takahiro Hachigo told reporters in Tochigi, Japan this week. “The speed of evolution in these areas has been accelerating and we need to solidify our initiatives.”

Since taking over as CEO of Japan’s third-largest automaker two years ago, Hachigo has largely focused on revamping the organizational structure and improving quality after successive recalls involving the popular Fit and Vezel models blighted the company’s reputation for reliability.

In that time, automakers have come under increasing pressure from Silicon Valley giants muscling in on autonomous driving and related fields, while more stringent fuel-economy and emission standards in major markets like China are pushing carmakers toward electric cars.

Honda, which like Toyota Motor Corp. has bet heavily on fuel-cell vehicles as the “ultimate eco-car,” is now developing battery-powered cars in order not to further miss out on the electric vehicle boom. About 1 million electric vehicles will be sold this year, representing an eightfold increase over five years, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. By contrast, Honda sold 245 of its hydrogen-run Clarity FCV, introduced last March, in its first year.

Electric Vehicles

Honda’s EV push comes as Nissan Motor Co. is set to unveil a new version of its Leaf EV, which it first started selling in 2010, while Volkswagen AG is planning to roll out four affordable EVs in the coming years. Toyota last year set up an internal venture with three of its top suppliers to develop electric vehicles.

Honda in October established an EV division within its research and development unit to spearhead the new global electric car, Hachigo said. The automaker will separately introduce a China-exclusive EV scheduled to go on sale next year, it said at the Shanghai Motor Show in April. Honda will also introduce this year in the U.S. a plug-in hybrid and fully electric version to its Clarity line.

In the area of autonomous driving, Honda said it’s aiming to roll out fully self-driving cars in 2025, or at least four years later than the planned offerings by automakers such as Nissan, Ford Motor Co. and Volvo Cars.

“We are not concerned about plans of Nissan or other carmakers,” said Hachigo. “We set the 2025 target because if we don’t set a plan, it will be very unclear for our R&D staff to know what they should do by when.”

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