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Honda to Lease EV Plus Electric Car
As Honda begins leasing its hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity to fleets and consumers in limited numbers today, it's interesting to look back at how this automaker handled a similar program with its EV Plus electric car back in the mid-1990s. Then, Green Car editors test drove the Honda EV and were impressed with its electric propulsion and overall engineering. Its use of a raised flat floor design to house batteries beneath the passenger cabin is reminiscent of how today's FCX positions some of its high-tech hydrogen fuel cell components. This article, reprinted just as it ran in Green Car's May 1996 issue, discusses our experience with Honda's electric car and the activities surrounding it.
HONDA TO LEASE EV PLUS ELECTRIC CAR
Honda's well-received entry in the production electric vehicle arena, aptly called the Honda EV, is a study in innovative design. It's not that the stylish vehicle offers a cutting-edge body shell -- its evolutionary ties to the Civic hatchback are evident, and Green Car editors are hauntingly reminded of BMW's circa-1991/1992 E1 and E2 electric concept vehicles. Rather, it's the overall effort and smart packaging from corner to corner that nets this automaker an A+ in EV market savvy, a tough grade to make in a time when endless focus groups and gut hunches rule the EV development world.
"Since the electric powertrain and large battery pack volume and mass present unique packaging requirements, the frame of the Honda EV is designed differently than that of a conventional vehicle," points out Ben Knight, vice president of Honda R&D. "The passenger cabin, with its raised flat floor, sits above and is completely separated from the single under-floor battery pack." Along with a roomy interior devoid of battery placement, this configuration provides the side benefit of a low center of gravity.
This EV's clever new ground-up design offers a roomy and well-thought-out interior that would be a credit to any Honda model. Standard equipment includes dual airbags, automatic climate control, electric power-assist steering, two-way remote communicator, and power windows, locks, and mirrors. It also features a unique liquid crystal display instrument cluster with state-of-charge and miles-to-discharge shown in bars, and speed in large numerals.
The two-door, four-passenger hatchback has nearly identical height, length, and width dimensions as the Kia Sportage, and only weighs in about 300 pounds heavier even with its sizable stash of batteries. Stylish projector headlamps are used up front, while the Honda EV's high-mounted taillamps flank the rear hatchback window. A charger inlet is located on the passenger side fender ahead of the door.
Underhood packaging is color-coordinated and absolutely top-notch. "Seven components are combined there which include the management ECU, the motor ECU, power drive unit, the DC to DC converter and inverter, and the onboard charger," says Knight. "This unit is liquid cooled, sharing a central cooling system with the motor and the batteries."
Green Car editors who road tested the Honda EV found it to offer reasonable acceleration and excellent ride and handling. Its 49kW brushless DC motor, which is powered by 24 12-volt Ovonic nickel-metal-hydride battery modules, achieves 0-60 mph acceleration in a claimed 18.7 seconds with an electronically-governed top speed in excess of 80 mph. Single-charge driving range is 125 miles based on the U.S. Federal Urban Driving Schedule, to full battery discharge and without air conditioning.
The Honda EV is the next logical step in an electric vehicle market introduction for this automaker. Honda has been evaluating prototype CUV-4 electric vehicles with utility partners Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric for the past 18 months. The automaker has also been evaluating the vehicle's use as an airport rental car with National Rental Car in Sacramento.
"Very early in the program we studied the potential size of the EV market and who the potential customers would be," says Knight. Honda looked at consumer and fleet markets and found a stark reality: While fleets offer the best chance for early EV placement, the fleet market is too limited to guarantee a model's success. So Honda is gearing up for both. "We plan to lease the vehicles to both consumers and fleets in a turnkey program which will be fairly inclusive," says Knight, with roadside assistance and battery maintenance included. However, a lease fee has not yet been set. "It's a competitive issue and it's a little early... we still have until spring next year," says Robert Bienenfeld, manager of Honda's alternative fuel task force. He also points to the need to bring early production versions to the U.S. for close focus groups with customers, "to determine the appropriate value so we can get good feedback, not just on the vehicle performance, but also on how people respond to an appropriate economic value for the vehicle."
Honda's plan is to use its limited 1997 EV rollout -- really an extensive demonstration program -- to evaluate the vehicles' advanced NiMH batteries, infrastructure issues, and customer acceptance. Dealers will initially lease and service Honda's EVs in Southern California and Sacramento, with vehicle introduction beginning in the spring of 1997. Approximately 300 Honda EVs will be introduced over the next several years.
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