Tale of Two of Carmakers

Electric Car Companies
Electric Car Companies

Honda, after its losses from the recent earthquake in Japan and flooding in Thailand, is clearly on the rebound. On the other hand, Coda Automotive is on teetering on the edge of financial problems that is affecting its manpower complement.

In a recent statement, Honda has opened its Marysville, Ohio plant to begin assembly of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid within 2013. The Accord Hybrid is the redesigned 2013 accord but utilizes the more complex plug-in hybrid propulsion system. The vehicle would go on sale by the fall, according to Honda spokesperson Ron Lietzke.

The Marysville plant is currently manufacturing the Accord Coupe and Sedan, together with the Acura TL. There are 4,400 employees in the plant and an additional fifty employees as well as an increase of US$23 million in investments.

There are two other hybrid models currently being built in the United States, namely the Civic Hybrid and the Acura ILX Hybrid, both in the Greensburg, IN. The first Accords were built in the Marysville plant back in 1982 amidst skepticism from consumer experts as to the capacity of American workers ability to meet the high quality demands of the vehicle. This was clearly addressed after a number of reliability studies have shown that it was the assembly methodologies that created the quality vehicle and not the nationality of the workers. Overall, there are four plants for Honda in the state of Ohio employing 13,500 individuals and comprising nearly U.S. $800 million in total investments in the country. In these plants engines and transmissions are built, as well as the research and design center where engineers can design new models.

This is a far cry from the landscape that Coda Automotive is currently in. Last December 26, 2012, the company announced through its Facebook page that its Coda Experience Center, located at the Westfield Mall in Century City, would be closed down. This was soon followed by layoffs last January 4, 2013, after laying off fifteen percent of its total staff last December alone.

In a statement, Coda said, “(Coda) furloughed a number of employees as the Company takes necessary action to bolster its financing and better position the business going forward.” It added, “The Company has kept in place a sufficient number of staff to keep the Company operational and remains committed to the continued development and distribution of its products.”

The company reassured that it will continue to provide services to its dealers and customers and termed that this is “a temporary action to allow the company to strategically direct resources towards critical operations and put the Company on a more sustainable path.”

Honda’s Electric Push Goes into Overdrive

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HONDAlogo

Honda recently unveiled its 2013 Accord in Chelsea Piers on Manhattan West Side. The Accord was in sedan and coupe designs and had the star of the show, the company’s first truly plug-in hybrid.

After a very dismal 2011 because of natural disasters in both Japan and Thailand, together with bland reviews of the Civic, Honda is on the rebound with 2012 sales of 732,165 vehicles up until July in the United States. Overall, August registered a 59.5 percent jump in sales in 2012 compared to 2011 numbers.

The 2013 Accord does not provide major style changes except for the plug-in hybrid model with its battery pack. The plug-in hybrid model would be available for 2013 to be assembled at the Savama, Japan factory of the company. The Accord is driven with by a two liter Atkinson Cycle four cylinder engine that is able to produce 137 horsepower that is partnered with a 124-kilowatt electric motor powered by a 6.7 kilowatt hour Blue Energy lithium ion battery pack. The total output of the Accord is pegged at 196 horsepower with a range expected to reach 500 miles.

The Accord can run up to fifteen miles on pure electricity and then the gas motor would come in at high speeds. The vehicle has three driving modes, with the battery pack connected to a 6.6 kW onboard charger that can fully recharge the battery from a 240 volt outlet in just an hour.

Another model in the Honda fleet that is environmentally friendly is the battery powered Fit EV. This all electric compact hatchback is available at U.S. $389 per month for three years and surprisingly, without a purchase option. The Fit EV has a coaxial electric motor able to produce 92 kilowatts that takes its power from a twenty kilowatt hour Toshiba battery. The Fit EV can be fully charged in under three hours with a240 kwh outlet.

According to EPA range estimates, the Fit EV can travel 82 miles in city and highway driving combined. This in turn pegs the mpg at 118 but this is dependent on one’s driving habits. There are three driving modes, namely Sport, Normal and Econ and provides a full range of options for the Fit EV driver.

No surprise that Honda is recovering in no time at all.

Honda Hybrid Civic Judgment Overturned

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HONDAlogo

A judge had overturned a small claims judgment amounting to U.S.$10,000 against the American Honda Motor Co. The award was won by a Hybrid Civic Owner who claimed that the company misrepresented the vehicle’s capability to achieve fifty (50) miles per gallon.

The reversal was made by Superior Court Judge Dudley W. Gray II, after Honda appealed a court commissioner’s grant of damages to petitioner Heather Peters. The judge had found that Peters had the standing to sue in state court but it was federal rules that govern fuel economy ratings together with the advertising claims. It also found that most owners of this particular kind of vehicle were able to achieve fuel economy mileage near the estimates of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA miles per gallon ratings are done merely for comparison purposes between vehicles and does not consider other vehicular factors such as the condition of the car or the trip distance, both of which affects the car’s mileage performance.

The decision penned by Gray said, “Despite these many variables, most of the owners of the subject vehicle achieve fuel economy very close to the EPA estimate.” He added that the automaker’s advertising slogans “are not specific promises of anything.”

Peter, a lawyer herself, filed a small claims case on her out and opting out of the class action settlement that offered 200,000 Honda Civic Hybrid as much as U.S.$200 together with a rebate if they choose to purchase a new Honda. With the award in the small claims court, she was able to convince about 1,700 other hybrid owners to follow the route she had taken.

Honda for its part, said that there were no exact numbers for those that had opted out but it has already won sixteen of the seventeen cases filed in small claims court since January of this year.

The reversal of the ruling by the superior court judge would not have a direct effect on the other cases. Many legal observers though said that this route could pose a challenge to many others filing in small claims court. While it is not binding on other courts, according to an expert, it certainly is persuasive on others.

Peters for her part said she was disappointed with the ruling but glad as to the attention she had brought to her plight and to many others like her. She quipped, “They used to go the extra mile in customer service, now they go the extra mile fighting customers in court.” She made these comments on her personal website.

In a statement, Honda said, “We are never satisfied when a customer is anything less than satisfied with one of our products and the company does not relish the necessity to defend the truth in opposition to any of our customers.”

Honda Offers All-Electric Fit EV to Market

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HONDAlogo

Honda has begun delivery of its all-electric Fit EV to its first clients, namely Google, Stanford University and Torrance Ca City Government. These are the first Fit EVs available to the public, which is well in advance of public sale for the units.

These first units would be part of a demonstration program aimed to provide feedback and research in the use of the Fit EV that can be used by the Japanese automaker for future developments in electric cars.

Torrance California was chosen as part of the demonstration program as it is the base of operations for Honda USA. The electric vehicles would be passed around city departments, such as parks and recreation, water and others to determine whether a city with an all-electric city fleet would be feasible. Another aspect of the program would be educating the general public and increase awareness about electric vehicles together with an evaluation as to the possibility of having a complete infrastructure for electric car charging within the city.

For Google, the Fit EV would form part of the G-fleet, the company’s car-sharing program that uses alternative fuel vehicles. The data and information gathered regarding multiple drivers on the Fit EV as to their feedback on the vehicle would then be forwarded to the carmaker.

Stanford on the other hand would use the car for behavioral research. The Center for Automotive Research in Stanford would outfit the Fit EVs with electrodes to measure human reactions as to the adoption of new technology with the car’s noises and alerts, such as low power warnings for the Fit EV while there would still be standard Fit cars to be part of the research.

The availability of the vehicle would expand to the East Cost by the spring of 2013. There are no sales but only leases available, with a term of three years costing nearly $400 per month. The lessees would need to go through a vetting process whether the applicant’s lifestyle would be fit for an electric vehicle. Factors under consideration would be the distance traveled commuting and if a charger would be installed at the owner’s home.

The Fit EV uses the design of the internal combustion engine Fit hatchback. The car debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show last November 2011. The car is powered with a 92 kilowatt electric motor using a 20 kilowatt per hour lithium ion battery. The car’s driving range, combined city and highway driving, is 76 miles on a single full charge.

The Detroit Hybrid Electric Car Show

some cars at zero pollution
some cars at zero pollution

Automakers now have to contend with increasing fuel economy standards and government regulations and as a response, more and more hybrids and electric cars have been showcased in the latest Detroit Auto Show currently underway.

Despite analysts’ expectations that the hybrid market would grow significantly in 2012, the main drawbacks continue to be the lower pump prices for gasoline and higher purchase cost for these kinds of vehicles. The automakers such as Toyota, Honda, Ford Motor, and others, continue to build and market hybrids and other plug-in vehicles.

Electric and hybrid cars cost several thousand more than internal combustion engines. BMW said that the ActiveHybrid 5 would be priced at $8,700 above the gas-fueled 535i. For GM, the Volt costs double compared to the Cruze, after the federal tax credit application.

While consumers are able to recover their costs for purchasing alternative fuel vehicles within a year, the lower gas prices has extended that recovery to more years. Another drawback is that the shortages in batteries and other important parts held back sales last year.

According to Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Nissan said, “We have a bottleneck with the batteries.” He added that he is expecting supplies to increase as their flagship Leaf goes online in markets in the United States. The electric car and battery arrays would start to be built in Tennessee, United States.

Ghosn further adds, “A lot of consumers are thrilled that they have the option of buying an electric car. We sold 9,700 the first year. We can double that. I am much more optimistic on the prospects for electric cars than many people. We are very, very far from our potential.”

As for GM, the carmaker is planning to sell 45,000 Volts in 2012 even if they fell short of their 10,000-unit target for the previous year. GM’s CEO, Daniel F. Akerson said that the company would build as many Volts as the demanded by the market. He said, “We’re going to match production with demand. There are new variables in the equation, so we’ll see.”

Toyota for its part would unveil its Prius C, a smaller version of the most popular hybrid in history, the Prius. The original Prius sales dipped 3.2 percent last year mainly due to the disasters in Japan. The company is also making available the Prius V this fall and the plug-in Prius this spring season with unveiling of a hybrid plug-in concept named the NS4 while Lexus, the company’s premium brand would be unveiling a hybrid sports coupe concept.

Other carmakers also had their own versions. For Honda, its upscale Acura brand unveiled two hybrid versions, namely the ILX and the NSX. These vehicles would be built in its new Ohio plant. For Volkswagen, the Jetta model would unveil its hybrid version while Mercedes would also unveil two E-class hybrids. These German hybrids would not be available in the United States. Volvo would also have its very own hybrid plug-in concept.