Tesla news always captures the headlines, but this week it seemed that the innovative transportation and energy company led by CEO Elon Musk is galaxies ahead of Honda in the impact it is making in the marketplace. Today it’s hard to remember when Honda was the exciting innovator, with dreams to build the company into the world’s top motorcycle maker– they’ve declined in allure for the green consumer so quickly and so dramatically.
This week on our “Gas2 Week in Review,” we look at three stories in which Honda seems to be lagging behind or outright failing in its attempts to be competitive with alternative energy transportation options. In contrast, Tesla news stories described new production numbers, models, and manufacturing facilities, all of which are directed toward accelerating “sustainable energy.”
Here are highlights from those Gas2 stories about two automakers with very different approaches to innovation, technology, and clean energy.
After terrible entries into the hybrid vehicle market with the Civic Hybrid, the second-generation Insight, and the CR-Z, Honda finds itself in a predicament. Can the Accord plug-in hybrid assuage naysayers who argue that Honda has little interest in establishing a reputation as a green car company? Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo seems to want to remedy the company’s tenuous position in the EV marketplace. In a speech in which he revealed the company’s Vision 2030 strategy, he said, “We’re going to place utmost priority on electrification and advanced safety technologies going forward.”
One of our savvy readers commented, “They just let Toyota unchallenged in the hybrid market and Tesla get at least a decade long head start on EVs…”
Thomas Brachmann, chief project engineer of Honda/ Europe Research & Development, debated the gains of hydrogen over solar at the Geneva Auto Show. “Photovoltaic electrolysis as a means of producing hydrogen is feasible, because it’s the only means we have of converting renewable energy electricity into a usable fuel and, even more important, into a proper storage media for renewable energy.”
Our readers had many insightful responses to Brachman’s untenable position:
- “Even if fuel cells overtake batteries on per vehicle capital costs (which is likely if R&D continues) there’s still the infrastructure issue (which is far closer to solved for BEVs than HFCVs) and the efficiency issue (which can’t be fixed and is relevant so long as energy costs something.)”
- “Who wants to maximize how much they pay for their car’s energy? Well, I mean besides the people selling them that energy.”
- “Once upon a time Honda was the undisputed king of small cars. Nowadays Honda can’t even make a decent Prius fighter. I don’t think Honda wants ANYTHING but hydrogen…”
Honda entered Formula One in 1964 and supplied its clever 1.5 liter V-12 engine to Williams and Tyrell. Later, Honda and McLaren combined to win the 1988 Constructors Championship with Ayrton Senna and again 1989 with Alain Prost taking the driver’s championship. When McLaren reunited with Honda for the 2015 Formula One season, many were optimistic.
That confidence has never played out, however, and recently McLaren CEO Zak Brown proclaimed that Honda’s underpowered, unreliable engines have a limited future with the team. “The executive committee have now given us our marching orders. We’re not going to go into another year like this, we hope.” After Fernando Alonso’s warm reception and driver’s performance at the Indianapolis 500, it will be soon seen whether the two-time F1 driver’s World Champion will remain with the team. “We have to win. If we are winning, before September or something like that, I will make a decision, and I will stay.” But what’s the likelihood of a win for an engine that regularly has more DNFs than completions?
Much like Honda’s start, Tesla was the product of a dream. Tesla CEO Elon Musk confided this week to the multitudes via Twitter that the company began when GM “forcibly recalled all electric cars from customers in 2003 & then crushed them in a junkyard. That was done against the will of their owners, who held a candlelight vigil all night to protest the death of their cars.”
Musk said that the only chance for EVs to join the automotive world was “to create an EV company.” Having now convinced most other automakers that EVs are practical and appealing to consumers, Tesla will deliver its new Model 3 by the end of 2017, is revealing the Tesla Semi this fall, has the Model Y under development, and is researching a Tesla pickup truck. Yes, Tesla’s vision began at a different moment in time than did Honda’s, with tremendously different cultural contexts as market forces, but Tesla news leads now the way, while Honda seems to be constantly playing catch-up.
Having learned their lessons from the debacle around trying to fit the Model X on the Model S chassis, Tesla’s newest addition, the Model Y, will be built at a dedicated production facility, with 2019 target date. With company expectations for demand for the Model Y to exceed that of the Model 3, Tesla news will surely turn to the construction of several new factories. And they seem likely to produce up to 6 million cars a year.
Globally, Honda sold about 4.7 million automobiles in its 2016 fiscal year. How likely is it that the Japanese automaker will be able to keep up with Tesla’s production numbers if it doesn’t make a much more substantial leap —- and do so quickly — to the world of alternative energy transportation? As one of our astute readers summarized, “Follow the money.”