Exclusive Interview With Honda’s Chief Engineer – Part 3: Manual Transmission on Hybrids and the CR-Z

Editor’s Note: This is part three of an interview Tetsuya Yokoyama recently had the opportunity to conduct with Honda R&D Chief Engineer, Mr. Yamamoto, at Eco-Products 2008 in Tokyo, Japan. Mr. Yamamoto is greatly involved in the development of Honda’s hybrid technology including the upcoming 2009 Insight. Read part one here and part two here.

Honda CR-Z lightweight hybrid sports car.Honda CR-Z lightweight hybrid sports car. Photo: Honda

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After talking with Mr. Yamamoto about supercapacitors, I moved on to discuss the possibility of a manual transmission on future hybrid vehicles. He said that it would not be difficult to put a manual transmission into an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) Hybrid system.

Even though the current Civic hybrids have no option for a manual transmission, a manual transmission was offered on the first generation of that car. The reason the current Civic Hybrid has a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is to increase overall fuel efficiency by automatically letting the system choose the most efficient drive ratio.

While you could potentially get a much better fuel efficiency with a manual transmission if you practice “Ecodriving,” the efficiency would go down significantly if you choose lower gears more often or drove more aggressively.

Mr. Yamamoto indicated that a manual transmission option is basically just a matter of market demand. In terms of business, the potential customers who demand a manual transmission are not high enough in Japan and USA. On the other hand, the Honda sales department has brought up the subject of a manual transmission option for the European market.

A manual transmission is possible with enough market demand, so he advises that if customers want it, they should raise their voices for it. He also pointed out that a feasible option to add a manual transmission on the IMA system is in fact a great differentiation Honda can offer compared to other manufactures. For example, Prius can’t offer it, he added.

I think that a sporty type model would have a high demand for a manual transmission, such as the CR-Z hybrid Honda is planning. Probably old CRX fans would love to have such a car. When I mentioned this to Mr. Yamamoto, he enthusiastically responded by telling me that he used to drive an ’84 CRX. After I told him I used to own two CRXs, he said “That was a great car” with a reminiscent smile on his face and went on a bit of a tangent, explaining that the CRX was initially targeted as a 50 mpg car in the development phase and maintained that focus all the way through to production.

In the end, I told him that I hoped Honda will make a great CR-Z production model. Mr. Yamamoto said that he hopes he can meet such high expectations — a refreshingly candid and honest response.

Part 4 of the interview is coming soon, so stay tuned to Gas 2.0 for more.

Exclusive Interview With Honda’s Chief Engineer Series:

Related links at Honda website:

Other Related Posts:

Honda Insight Concept at Eco-Products 2008Insight Concept. It resembles the CR-Z concept and the second generation CRX to some degree.

Honda 87 CRX silver and 86 CRX redCRX: a fun to drive and high fuel economy car. The silver one was my very first car, and the red one was my second CRX with a stick shift. They managed to run between Las Vegas and Santa Barbara (approx 380 miles) without refueling.

* Please note that my interview with Mr. Yamamoto was conducted in Japanese and this post represents my best effort at translating his Japanese into English. Keep in mind that some of my translation may express a slightly different meaning from what Mr. Yamamoto intended to explain, and I may have a misunderstanding on some technical topics because I have no technical education in this subject. Please feel free to point out if you find an incorrect description. I do appreciate it because my intention of writing this article is to share correct information on this interesting topic.

Image Credits: Honda / M. Koguchi / Tetsuya Yokoyama

Tetsuya Yokoyama

Originally from Kanazawa, Japan, Tetsuya graduated with honors and distinction in major from the University of California, Santa Barbara in Environmental Studies, and also completed a Global Operations Management certification program at the University of California, Irvine. He loves biking and playing soccer, and very interested in all kinds of green products and services. He used to drive his beloved hybrid car, Honda Insight in Southern California. Tetsuya currently writes about green matters from Tokyo, Japan. He hopes to make our planet a little more human and environmentally friendly place by spreading and sharing green stories.