Honda teases new electric SUV, Canadian plans, as it seeks carbon neutrality

As part of the automaker's bid for for carbon neutrality, Honda has announced plans to release the Prologue, a full battery-electric midsize SUV launching in early 2024. The company said it also plans to release more high-trim electric hybrid versions of core models in Canada as and when current models are redesigned, with no plans for plug-in hybrid variants.

Honda global CEO Toshihiro Mibe announced in late April plans for the company to achieve carbon neutrality for its products and operations by 2050. Along the way, it intends for North American auto sales to be 40 per cent electric (both battery and hydrogen fuel cell) by 2030, 80 per cent by 2035, and 100 per cent by 2040.

Honda has been selling gas-electric hybrid cars almost as long as Toyota. It built several hundred copies of the experimental EV Plus in the late 1990s, and soon after became the first automaker to put a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle in the hands of consumers. It has also long achieved the highest fleet fuel economy of any full-line automaker in North America.

But even as the climate crisis has loomed ever larger, Honda has been outpaced in recent years by many other automakers in both its recent sales of electrified vehicles and its announced goals for more of them in future. In addition, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are slowly losing the fight against the much more popular battery electric vehicle (BEV), which is what most consumers nowadays understand to be an electric car.

While noting that a good experience with hybrids makes consumers more comfortable transitioning to full BEVs, Honda Canada president and CEO Jean Marc Leclerc said there are no immediate plans to bring to Canada the hybrid version of its top-selling nameplate, the CR-V, even though it already exists south of the border. Canada's CR-V Hybrid will await the launch of the next generation CR-V, due late next year as a 2023 model.

The next nameplates due for a full model change are expected to be the HR-V subcompact and Pilot midsize crossovers, which both underwent their last full model changes in the 2016 model year. The Accord midsize sedan (which does currently include a hybrid version) and Odyssey minivan were last redesigned for the 2018 model year, which, based on Honda's usual six-year life cycle, would make them due for complete redesigns in 2024.

Questions still remain for the Honda Civic, which has just been redesigned for 2022 with only gas engines. Also still be seen is at what point existing models will transition directly to electric, bypassing the intermediate stage of gas-engine-with-hybrid option completely.

Like the current Honda Pilot, the 2024 Prologue (and an Acura sister vehicle due later in calendar 2024) is likely to be a midsize SUV. It will be based on Honda's joint venture with GM that also spawned the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq, and will use the same GM-developed Ultium batteries.

The Prologue, Honda says, will be "highly competitive, with the functionality expected by Honda customers." More details are promised over the coming months.

Meanwhile, Honda is developing its own e:Architecture that will be the foundation of additional EVs coming to Canada in the second half of this decade. At the same time, Honda hopes to transition to its own solid-state batteries that are expected to significantly lower the current cost and range barriers to EV adoption.

Despite all this, the Prologue won't be Honda's first series-production EV of the modern era. The Honda e, a tiny city car, went on sale in Japan and other markets last year, and Honda will debut a BEV in China next year.

Chances appear slim that those vehicles will ever make it to Canada. "The e has been designed for another part of the world," said Leclerc. "You never say 'never,' but people are not prepared to compromise on what they need for their vehicles, which is trucks. We won't eliminate passenger cars, which are strongly implanted in the Honda DNA (but) we need to give people what they want in an electrified version."

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