Honda revamps hybrid powertrains, promises greater efficiency
New technology is tailored to the size of the vehicle and would offer 1, 2 or even 3 electric motors.
Honda's current Integrated Motor Assist, which has been in use since the first 2-seat Insight in 1999, uses what is essentially an extra-large starter motor to assist the small gasoline engine. As a result, the system is lighter and cheaper than Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, but cannot start or run any of Honda's current hybrids solely on electric power. As a result, Honda hybrids don't even match the stellar fuel economy ratings of the Prius.
Honda's new systems are tailored to the size of the vehicle, eschew continuously variable transmissions for 7-speed dual-clutch units and use more powerful lithium-ion batteries instead of nickel-metal hydride.
Its smallest hybrid system installs a small electric motor directly inside the gearbox, which will finally allow low-speed electric driving and can disengage the engine during coasting -- similar to what Porsche allows on its Cayenne Hybrid.
The automaker's midsize solution -- which will be used on the 2014 Accord plug-in hybrid -- uses two electric motors that can allow electric driving for several miles and has two other performance settings.
Larger vehicles such as the Acura MDX could be equipped with Honda's all-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain. This system would pair a 3.5-liter V6 engine with three electric motors -- two of which would independently drive each rear wheel and apply different torque levels to improve cornering performance (it's similar to what Acura's current SH-AWD system offers). Honda says each of the rear-wheel motors could be charged against the other, so energy generated from one wheel can be applied simultaneously to the other.
Honda hasn't released any models, other than the Accord, that would use this technology, nor has it mentioned cost, fuel economy or availability. But if Honda succeeds, Toyota (and now, increasingly, Ford) may finally have some real mileage competition.
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