Honda’s exotic powertrain tech

New-gen plug-in hybrid, 10-speed gearbox, ‘Tesla killer’ are in the works

New-gen plug-in hybrid, 10-speed gearbox, ‘Tesla killer’ are in the works

Honda‘s next round of technologies begins with the Clarity hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, shown at the Tokyo Motor Show.

UTSUNOMIYA, Japan — Honda Motor Co. has run through two quick waves of powertrain overhauls spanning direct injection and turbocharging. Now it is entering new territory again.

This time Honda is readying exotic technologies ranging from a new-generation plug-in hybrid and ultralean burning engines to 10-speed transmissions and hydrogen fuel cells.

The new phase will unfold over the next five years and underscores how automakers are going to extremes to meet stricter fuel economy and emissions rules.

Honda unveiled the technologies ahead of the Tokyo Motor Show, at its r&d center here north of Tokyo.

“We’ve added a new lineup to expand our formation,” said Keiji Ohtsu, Honda’s chief officer for technology strategy.

Engineers even dangled the possibility of an all-wheel-drive all-electric sports car. The car’s project leader called it a “Tesla killer.”

The multipronged attack builds on the Earth Dreams family of powertrains Honda began rolling out in late 2012. That makeover started with new naturally aspirated, direct-injection engines and continuously variable transmissions. Since then, Honda has added turbocharged engines and more performance-oriented dual-clutch transmissions.

The next round of technologies begins with the Clarity hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that debuted at the Tokyo show and goes on sale next year.

Honda aims to wring the most from that investment by using the same platform for a new plug-in hybrid, expected around 2018. That vehicle will deliver at least three times the 13-mile range on electricity of Honda’s current Accord Plug-in Hybrid, thanks to a new lithium ion battery that boosts energy density 50 percent.

In addition, Honda calls its new 10-speed planetary automatic transmission for front-wheel-drive vehicles a world’s first. It is expected to be used in large vehicles such as the Acura RLX and Honda Odyssey. Honda will build the 10-speed in-house.

It will boost fuel economy by at least 6 percent over the outgoing six-speed and deliver 14 percent better acceleration, Honda said. Shifting will be 30 percent faster.

Honda demonstrates a modified CR-Z with high-torque acceleration and torque vectoring on all four wheels for extra-precise handling.

Meanwhile, Honda plans a next-generation internal combustion engine with thermal efficiency rates of 50 percent. Honda’s best engines today fall just shy of 40 percent.

How? A new technology Honda calls Homogenous Lean Charge Spark Ignition. Besides improving thermal efficiency, it lowers the combustion temperature to reduce oxides of nitrogen emissions. Honda targets deployment around 2020.

Finally, Honda is dabbling with an awd EV that delivers high-torque acceleration and torque vectoring on all four wheels for extra-precise handling.

A group of young engineers spearheaded the project to compete in the race up Pikes Peak in Colorado. They modified a CR-Z hybrid hatchback with motors similar to the two front motors in the upcoming Acura NSX sports car.

Honda is considering possible production uses, said Yutaka Horiuchi, the project’s chief engineer. Vehicles using it likely would need to be high-end to justify the system’s cost, he said. Joked Horiuchi: “This is our Tesla killer.”

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