Honda and Hybrid Electric Vehicles
Honda was founded in Hamamatsu, Japan, by Soichiro Honda in 1946 as the Honda Technical Research Institute. The company began as a developer of engines for bicycles, but by 1949 it had produced its first motorcycle, called the Dream. In 1959, Honda entered the U.S. automobile and motorcycle market by opening the American Honda Motor Company. A few years later, in 1963, Honda released its first sports car, the S500, in Japan. Honda Motor Co. Inc. grew rapidly to become one of the largest automobile companies in the world. Its “globalization” strategy of building factories around the world that would meet the needs of local customers had resulted in a total worldwide presence of more than 100 factories in 33 countries. Furthermore, while other auto manufacturers engaged in a frenzy of merger and acquisition activities in the late 1990s, Honda steadfastly maintained its independence. Honda has grown into one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers and has also evolved into one of the most respected global brands. In 1997, Honda Motor Company introduced to Japan a two-door gas/electric hybrid vehicle called the Insight. The Insight’s fuel efficiency was rated at 61 miles per gallon in the city, and 68 miles per gallon on the highway, and its battery did not need to be plugged into an electrical outlet for recharging. By 1999, Honda was selling the Insight in the United States, and winning accolades from environmental groups. In 2000 the Sierra Club gave Honda its Award for Excellence in Environmental Engineering, and in 2002 the Environmental Protection Agency rated the Insight the most fuel-efficient vehicle sold in the United States for the 2003 model year. By August 2005, Honda had sold its 100,000th hybrid to retail customers. Developing environmentally friendly automobiles was not a new strategy for Honda. In fact, Honda work on developing cleaner transportation alternatives had begun decades earlier. Honda had achieved remarkable technological successes in its development of solar cars and electric cars and was an acknowledged leader in the development of hybrid cars. Gaining mass-market acceptance of such alternatives, however, had proved more challenging. Despite apparent enthusiasm over environment friendly vehicles market adoption of environmentally friendly vehicles had been relatively slow, making it difficult for automakers to achieve the economies of scale and learning curve effects that would enable efficient mass production. Some industry participants felt that the market was not ready for a mass-market hybrid; Honda and Toyota were betting otherwise, and hoping that their gamble would pay off in the form of leadership in the next generation of automobiles.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have several advantages over gasoline vehicles, such as regenerative braking capability, reduced engine weight, lower overall vehicle weight, and increased fuel efficiency and decreased emissions. First, the regenerative braking capability of HEVs helps to minimize energy loss and recover the energy used to slow down or stop a vehicle. Given this fact, engines can also be sized to accommodate average loads instead of peak loads, significantly reducing the engine weight for HEVs. Additionally the special lightweight materials that are used for the manufacture of HEVs further reduce the overall vehicle weight of the vehicle. Finally, both the lower vehicle weight and the dual power system greatly increase the HEV’s fuel efficiency and reduce its emissions. As of 2004, gas-electric hybrid engines were delivering, on average, fuel economy gains of about 25 percent over regular combustion engines.
Honda’s Hybrid Engine
The Honda Insight was designed as a ‘parallel” hybrid system, where the electrical power system and the gasoline power system run in parallel to simultaneously turn the transmission, and the transmission then turns the wheels. The...
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