Honda exec says California regulators gave short shrift to plug-ins

Robert Bienenfeld: As battery technology improves, plug-in hybrids are steadily increasing the range at which they can travel using batteries alone. Photo credit: Greg Horvath

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A senior Honda executive believes the California Air Resources Board — which has mandated electric vehicles and fuel cells — has given short shrift to plug-in hybrids.

Robert Bienenfeld, American Honda Motor Co.’s vice president of environment and energy strategy, said Tuesday at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars that the California Air Resources Board considers plug-in hybrids to be “transition” vehicles that will fade away when zero-emission vehicles become commercially viable.

Not so fast, Bienenfeld said. As battery technology improves, plug-in hybrids are steadily increasing the range at which they can travel using batteries alone.

So if a plug-in hybrid can travel say, 9,000 miles a year on the battery alone, the automaker should derive the same credits that it would get for a battery-electric vehicle, Bienenfeld said.

In fact, it would be theoretically possible to meet California’s 2050 air quality standards if 60 percent of the vehicle fleet is composed of plug-in hybrids, Bienenfeld argued.

Different recommendation

Beinenfeld’s recommendation? Instead of mandating zero-emission vehicles, CARB should set air quality standards and let automakers figure out how to meet them. This is the approach favored by the EPA, he noted.

In any event, Honda is preparing to roll out a new generation of zero emission vehicles.

In April, the company announced it would market a three-model family of green cars under the Clarity nameplate. Late this year, a five-seat hatchback powered by a hydrogen fuel cell will go on sale.

Next year, Honda will roll out an all-electric Clarity, plus a plug-in hybrid. The latter two models will share the same platform, and five-seat layout as the fuel cell model.

“We are moving forward on all fronts,” Bienenfeld said. “It’s a little too early to pick winners and losers.

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