When the new Honda Clarity was announced, it sounded pretty appealing. One chassis that resembles the svelte Accord but with a choice of three powertrains — hydrogen fuel cell, plug-in hybrid, or full battery electric. That way, the manufacturer is able to adjust production to meet demand. If the people demand a plug-in hybrid, build more of those. If they want a battery electric car, call over to your battery supplier and order more battery packs. If hydrogen is what people want (highly unlikely), they can have it. Choice is good, right?
“To some degree, it’s all white space,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for IHS Markit, “and the market is going to spend the next several years figuring it out and where people want to buy in the spectrum of size and range. You just need to get it out there and see how people react.” That’s just another way of saying automakers are hedging their bets while they wait for the future to reveal itself.
There is little doubt that Tesla’s approach is the gold standard when it comes to electric cars — a dedicated chassis built from the ground up to be powered by electrons instead of molecules. Putting the battery down low in the chassis beneath the floor keeps the weight of the battery from upsetting handling but does not lend itself to any other means of propulsion. But Tesla has a big advantage over legacy automakers. It doesn’t have to show a profit each quarter. Its shareholders get giddy if it only loses 80 cents a share because they know it is going to be hugely profitable sometime in the next 10 years — or so.
Last year, Honda announced that the price of the fuel cell Clarity will be $60,000 in the US market. This week, it released information on the battery electric version it plans to offer later this year. The good news is it will start at around $35,000, before incentives. The bad news is it will have only 80 miles of range. “A pillar of the Honda brand is affordability, and if Honda came out with some obscenely priced long-range electric car, what does that do for the brand?” Steve Center, vice president of environmental business development at American Honda Motor says. “Most of our customers would not be able to acquire it.”
Honda apparently painted itself into a corner when it chose the parameters for the Clarity. Given the size of the chassis and the price target (before incentives), there is simply no way it can fit the car with a larger battery. Oh, dear.
Honda says feedback from its Fit EV has figured into its calculations. That car also has about 80 miles of range but the number one complaint from customers is that it is too small. Honda apparently has not spoke to one of my family members who drives a Fit EV and says he would never buy another electric car with such limited range. Fortunately he only commutes 6 miles a day to work but even at that he finds the range of the Fit EV to problematic if he wants to go anywhere during the day. The problem only gets worse in winter.
The Nissan LEAF and the Hyundai Ioniq battery electric both have about 120 miles of range — 50% more than the Clarity. Honda’s Steve Center says, “These people want a battery car and they know what they do and where they go. They’re very rational and they don’t need to lug around or charge up a 300-mile-range battery because that costs them electricity.”
That sounds like whistling in the dark to me. Would you like my guesstimate as to how many Clarity electrics Honda sells? 1,000 in California and another 1,000 in the rest of the country. 80 miles of range is simply unacceptable in 2017. It was barely acceptable in 2010. Honda should be embarrassed to bring this car with its anemic range to market.
Source: Automotive News