Energy Efficiency, Japan

Auto biggies bet on green tech

November 5, 2007 (Times of India) – At a dinner for scores of journalists and dealers from the Asia-Pacific region hosted by him on the sidelines of the Tokyo Motor Show last week, Honda Motor Co President and CEO Takeo Fukui stopped by for a chat at a table with Indian journalists.

A veteran auto journo was quick to grab the opportunity to pop a question: How are you going to reconcile your professed commitment to environmental efficiency with the promise of making your cars fun to ride? Fukui was unfazed by the question: “You’ll find out for yourself tomorrow,” he said with a confident smile.

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What the Honda CEO was referring to was the fact that the Indian journalists invited by his company to visit the Motor Show, would be test driving the FCX concept car at Honda proving grounds, about 100 km north of Tokyo the next day. With a maximum speed of 160 kmph and a sleek design, the new concept car is already a significant improvement over its earlier version. What’s more, it costs less to produce.

A day earlier, Fukui had ridden in to the Honda stall for a press conference on a Puyo, another eco-friendly fuel-cell concept car, while the other car on the dais was a hybrid, this one a sport model, the CR-Z. The brief speech he made at the start of the conference was almost entirely focussed on the clean technologies that Honda intends to bring to the market.

These include a commercial vehicle based on the FCX concept to be launched in Japan and the US next year and one based on the CR-Z by 2009. It’s obvious that Honda sees cars that use alternatives to fossil fuels as the future of the automobile industry.

Honda is not alone in this respect. Other carmakers at the show also displayed their green technologies. Toyota, which was the first to make a major push into hybrids with its Prius about a decade ago, showcased concept cars like the hybrid Crown, the I/X which it says is engineered to be twice as energy efficient as the Prius and the hybrid sports car FT-HS.

Nissan’s Green 2010 Plan envisages that by the end of this decade only one-third the cars sold will be combustion-engine powered, the remaining two-thirds made up of a mix of electric, fuel cell and hybrid cars. Honda is targeting sales of 400-500,000 hybrid cars once the CR-Z enters the market some time in 2009.

So what’s driving this rush towards green cars? It’s a mix of factors. As Fukui explained to a gathering of Indian scribes while conceding that Honda was later than Toyota on this front – the motivation for really pushing hybrids was missing so far since their costs were higher than conventional internal combustion engines.

But over the years, hybrid engines have become less bulky and more efficient, reducing costs. At the same time, soaring oil prices have made alternatives more viable. The growing awareness about climate change and global warming has added to the impetus behind cleaner fuels.

With no signs of oil prices coming down in a hurry those factors will remain in play. That does not mean automakers will abandon IC engines overnight. On the contrary, they continue to fine-tune those to get more out of each drop of fossil fuel than in the past. But the future seems clearly to lie with the cleaner, greener cars.

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