The auto industry took another small step up in its long climb to a 54.5 mile-per-gallon average this week, as Honda Motor Co. officially rolled out a 50-mpg hybrid version of one of the country's best-selling cars.
The long-awaited 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid will use a gasoline-electric powertrain to reach an EPA rating of 50 mpg city, 45 highway, and 47 combined. That puts it ahead of competing midsize hybrids, such as the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Hyundai Sonata, but still behind the Toyota Prius, which gets 51 mpg in the city.
Honda reached the 50-mpg milestone with a clever combination of all-electric, hybrid, and engine-only driving modes.
Click on the photo below to check out Honda's 50-mpg hybrid.
Honda's 2014 Accord hybrid will offer 50 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, and 47 combined. Manufacturer's suggested retail price starts at $29,155. (Source: Honda Motor Co.)
All-electric. In this mode, the Accord's 124-kW electric traction motor turns the wheels, drawing power from a 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery for the first few miles.
Hybrid. When the battery is quickly depleted, the Accord kicks into series hybrid mode, using its gasoline engine to power a generator, which feeds current to the electric motor to drive the wheels.
Engine-only. At approximately 40 mph, the unique aspect of the powertrain shows itself. Then, the electric motor is decoupled, and a clutch engages the crankshaft of the two-liter gasoline engine. In this "direct-drive" mode, the car uses only its engine for power.
Honda said the three modes are governed by a number of variable factors, but always with the idea of eking out extra fuel economy. "It always seeks the best possible efficiency," Honda spokesman Chris Naughton told Design News. "It will seamlessly transition between all three of the modes."
The new vehicle, scheduled to go on sale later this month, is a slightly more conventional twist on the 2014 Accord Plug-In Hybrid, announced earlier this year. Its 1.3-kWh battery is smaller than the plug-in's 6.7-kWh battery, which can take the car approximately 13 miles in all-electric mode. The plug-in also offers owners the opportunity to recharge the batteries by plugging them in at night, which the new conventional hybrid does not.
Automotive experts called Honda's approach a conservative and profitable way to electrify its fleet. "This is what you're going to see from a lot of mainstream manufacturers going forward," Thilo Koslowski, vice president and distinguished analyst for Gartner Inc., told Design News. "There isn't a way yet for volume manufacturers to offer fully electric vehicles at a price point that would guarantee them profit. With a hybrid, you don't need a breakthrough in battery technology to make it competitive."
Honda does offer a pure electric car. The Honda Fit EV, as it's known, is not targeted for big sales numbers, however, with production volumes being limited in the first three years.
"The manufacturers are starting to make their bets," Koslowski said. "And the hybrid is certainly a much safer bet for mainstream automakers than a fully electric vehicle."
Wow, I am impressed, but not surprised, that Honda has come up with such a fuel-efficient car. I guess until a really viable and affordable EV can be developed (without worry that the Li battery in it will explode or overheat!), cars like this are great options to typical gasoline-powered vehicles. 50 miles to the gallon is nothing to sneeze at.
I agree Chuck. And those developments will probably go hand-in-hand with hybrid developments. Market acceptance, though, will likely depend on economics. If technology can bring down the price of hybrids and EVs, and if oil prices begin rising again, that could drive acceptance. But fracking has created a wave of new oil in this country. When they start fracking around the world. we'll see oil prices come down for an extended period.
Could it be that the Japanese car companies are developing their hybrid chassis to maximize the MPG and keeping an eye out for the next transformational battery technology? When the battery is smaller and more energy dense, the Toyotas and Hondas can replace the ICE for an equivalent battery (by weight). Then they have invested their time and resources in developing controls and optimized, light weight chassis.
Who knows, 5 - 10 years from now we could see the "hot rodding" of these hybrids as in ripping out the ICE, changing the control software, and putting in that super battery! Then take out the old Honda hybrid hot rod and smoke (no pun intended) the Teslas of the same vintage!!!
What is surprising for me is that engineering has gotten efficiency to the stage that city consumption is considerably better (less) than country - been out of the auto industry for a long time but it always used to be the other way round.
Yes, Liz, 50 mpg is impressive, especially in a car the size of the Accord. As far as pure EVs go, I'm not worried about the overheating batteries. Engineers can always control those issues. The bigger worries will be range and cost.
I didn't think of the size of the Accord but now that you mention it, Chuck, yes, 50 mpg seems more like something a Civic (which I used to own in the early 2000s) could achieve. So now I am even more impressed! I hope you're right about the battery issues...if it's something that can be controlled I wonder why mishaps keep happening.
Charles, you know better than just about anyone that the liquid coolant systems employed by Tesla and GM keep the batteries within an optimum range and won't allow for overheating; thus extending the life of the battery and preventing the potential for fire.
Maybe more to the point, I'm getting 40+ MPG in my 2013 Nissan Versa, which cost me under $12,000. Why would I pay more than twice that much just to get a less than 20% improvement in fuel efficiency?
Driving 12,000 miles per year with gas at $3.50, 50 mpg vs. 40 mpg translates to a $210 annual savings. At that rate, the payback period for the hybrid would be around 80 years... and that's assuming nothing goes wrong with the battery. That sounds like an incredibly bad investment to me.
Actually, even a Prius C at $20,000 is a bad deal compared to the Versa, unless gas hits about $13.50 a gallon. Then you at least have a chance of getting your money back sometime during the lifetime of the car. If you want to get your money back in the first five years, gas needs to be over $25 a gallon, or you need to drive over 90,000 miles a year.
Now, a vehicle that got the same gas mileage as your Chevy Volt and cost under $20,000, that would be a reasonable deal.
Until then, there are enough traditional powertrain vehicles that get decent gas mileage that alternative powertrains are still mainly a status symbol.
Electric vehicles certainly get better mpg, ChriSharek, and I'm totally with you on the advantages. But at this point I don't think EVs are a viable option for everyone, though hopefully soon that will change.
Elizabeth, I do agree with you on EVs should be affordable and also should be reliable. So battery warrantee is playing a major role in decision making process. Mercedes Benz new S-class Hybrid is offering a 10 Year warrantee for the battery.
Cap'n, this is an interesting application of control technology to gain fuel effieicncy. In the mid 1990s I got a car that had adaptive shifting for the transmission. This allowed shift points to be adaptively changed according to how the driver used the gas. Recently, I was looking at vehicles with my son, and we were at one dealer who mentioned that the fuel efficiency of his new car had just been increased by a change in the software in the engine management system. I believe in that case that he said the shift points were modified. The Honda in this article uses control technology to pick the mode adaptively. These are all good examples of how much our fuel efficiency increases have been driven by engine controls. I think that 54.5 MPG number is well within reach.
You're absolutely right, naperlou. Engine management is critical to achieving these numbers. Honda told us that the three modes we mentioned above are dependent on a variety of factors, the main ones being level of load, accelerator position and status of battery charge.
A 1.3 kw-hr battery? Really? Why even bother!? It won't be eligible for federal tax incentives with that size battery either!
Other than Nissan, the Japanese carmakers are clearly a follow the leader / let's make sure it works first / never cutting edge / avoid risk whenever possible car manufacturer. We heard just last week that Toyota is sticking to its hybrids because "the world isn't ready for pure electrics yet" . . . I can't wait to watch GM take back the global automotive crown.
Many of us remember the Ford C-MAX that came out with impressive 47/47/47 MPG only to have the numbers 'revised' after many users could not achieve these numbers. Also, Hyundai had a problem with over-stated MPG that had to be revised. So let's get some of the cars in owner hands and see what happens but we did some 'back-of-the-envelope' calculations.
The Toyota transmission splits 28% of the power over the electrical path and 72% over the very efficient, mechanical path at all speeds. In contrast, the Honda system sends 100% of the power through the electrical path at lower speeds, below 40 mph.
We typically use 92% efficiency for the engine-to-generator and another 92% efficiency for the generator-to-motor path. The serial path efficiency being the product, ~85%. In contrast, the Toyota system sends only 28% through the relative lossy, electrical path. The rest goes through the mechanical path, typically 98% efficient (one gear set.)
We hope the Honda design works well, at least as well as the Toyota Camry hybrid, another sedan hybrid. But this is why "owner verification" is so important as 'your mileage may vary.'
Look, I'm really not trying to brag or boast here. I'm only trying to share the TRUTH about the Volt. The REAL data about the Volt. Not the garbage you read in mainstream media.
I also haven't seen a bit of a decay in the battery capacity - after 36,000 miles. I went 46 miles on a single charge just this weekend (and had 2 miles remaining). That is NOT what I'm hearing from Leaf owners with that many miles on their vehicle - remember that their battery is air-cooled.
Interesting point about the Volt battery, ChrisSharek. I recently talked to an EV engineer who told me that he thought the Volt's liquid cooling system was overkill. But your experience tells a different story. I think GM will be glad they took the liquid cooling route in the long run. Check out this story from the MIT Technology Review last year:
Let's see here... Honda's gettin' it done for $10K less than Chevy Volt, even when you factor in GM's HUGE rebate of $7500 [sponsored by the White house] and their recent price slash of $5000.
Honda Accord Hybrid versus Toyota Prius...
MSRP's are very comparable, but the Honda is still not as efficient as a Prius.
But then again, it won't draw so many "butt ugly" remarks, either.
Honda Accord Hybrid versus a Dart with a conventional gas engine drivetrain...
I'll head the other direction for a moment and say... why not save ANOTHER 10 grand UP FRONT and buy a Dodge Dart?
Even if it's 10 mpg less efficient than the Honda... 100K mile's worth of $3.50 gas is only another $2300... and it isn't "financed" or "up front". It's pay as you go.
...still NOT sold on hybrids... GM, Honda, or Toyota... NOBODY. The economics are simply NOT there. Even if it is time to replace your car, it will not pencil. I cannot afford to care so much about mpg when the real yardstick for me [and most car owners, for that matter] is COST PER MILE of ownership.
I have come to the conclusion, respectfully, that hybrids and EV's are for people who can afford to cuddle the spotted owl with their checkbooks...
Constitution man, I totally agree with you on the traditional (parallel) hybrid vehicles. It's not worth the additional $3-4k to improve your gas mileage by 5-10 MPG.
However, if you pay a little more up front for an EV or PHEV and actually add a digit to your mileage, say go from 24 MPG to 240 MPG, then that's another story. The $35,000 Volt - $7,500 FTC = $28k. But, when you factor in the savings on gas and maintenance, the vehicles really begin to make sense and cents.
Thank you Charles for the update and great slide show. I have owned two Honda Civics and drove them both towards 250,000 miles before trading. Both Honda and Toyota have remarkable reliability records which I feel is due to their conservative design. I only hope the Honda Accord Hybrid can achieve the same reliability. I think the "engine only" design is very unique and it will be very interesting to see how the design holds up relative to everyday driving.
Your experience with Hondas is common, bobjengr. I recently spoke to someone who traded in his Honda Accord with 455,000 miles on it. He said he would still be driving if he hadn't left it in a parking lot that flooded near O'Hare Airport in Chicago earlier this year. Prior to the flood, he said he expected the car to exceed half a million miles with no problem.
@Charles: Okay, so let's compare apples to apples: 2014 Accord ($23,625 MSRP, 30 mpg combined) vs. 2014 Accord Hybrid ($29,155, 47 mpg combined). Assuming that you drive 12,000 miles per year and gas costs $3.50, the hybrid will save you about $500 a year on gas. Since the difference is MSRP is over $5000, that means it will take over 10 years to pay for itself.
Of course, if you drive a lot more miles, or if gas gets a lot more expensive, the payback period gets shorter. But it will still be over 5 years for most people. Chances are, your gas savings will never offset your higher car payment until you're done paying for the car.
Good analysis, Dave. The scenario you've described is reasonable for the majority of vehicle owners. Of course, if you double it and drive 24,000 miles per year, then you can hit the break even point in half that time. And if you keep it for 200,000, as many people do now, you end up ahead. (I have 198,000 on my car.) So the bottom line is it may not be feasible for a lot of car owners, but those who drive a lot of miles and keep their cars for a long time can realize the benefits.
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