Honda to Launch New Hybrid and All-Electric Vehicle in U.S. by 2012

As rival automakers, including Toyota, Ford, Nissan and General Motors, have rushed to compete in the electric vehicle sector, Honda Motor Company has remained cautiously on the sidelines, but that’s about to change.

On Tuesday, Honda Motor Company announced that it plans to launch a new plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicle (AEV) in its home market and in the U.S. in 2012.

Speaking at a news conference in Japan today, Honda’s CEO Takanobu Ito said the new model launches are part of a broader medium-term strategy to improve the company’s green car credentials.

Honda also plans to revamp its engine and transmission lineup and to launch a new small diesel-powered model in Europe in 2012 to improve the overall fuel efficiency of its entire fleet.

Although Honda was one of the first major automakers to offer a gasoline-electric hybrid model and has had limited success with the Insight hybrid but has fallen behind the competition in terms of fuel efficiency.

Later this year, Nissan will launch its all new Leaf AEV, and General Motors Company’s all new Volt plug-in hybrid is scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. in October or November. Hyundai Motor Company and Volkswagen AG are also planning to launch new hybrid models they say will have higher fuel-efficiency ratings than Honda’s hybrid offerings. Volkswagen and Hyundai are also reportedly readying all-electric vehicles for market in case the technology takes hold with consumers.

Until now, Honda had said it would sell battery-powered vehicles in the U.S. as a way to meet both federal and California fuel-efficiency requirements and had argued that the high cost of electric car batteries simply made the technology impractical.

While other major automakers looked to electric or advanced diesel technologies to lower emissions and improve the fuel efficiency of their fleets, Honda has been a strong proponent of hydrogen fuel-cell technology. However, the lack of infrastructure needed to support hydrogen-powered transportation combined with public skepticism and a lack of R&D funding has made it difficult for Honda and other advocates of hydrogen propulsion technology to advance their goals.

With the success of its Prius hybrid model, Toyota Motor Corporation was another late comer to the all-electric vehicle party. However, the company’s new joint venture with electric car startup, Tesla Motors, appears to indicate that it is ready to take the battery electric vehicle plunge.

According to Nikkei Business Daily, Honda expects its new plug-in hybrid model to get about 37 kilometers per liter of gasoline compared with the Prius’ estimated 30 kilometers per liter. Honda is also considering building its Insight along with two other hybrid models in the U.S. and will increase the number of hybrid in its model lineup to five or more by 2013.

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