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Tokyo show: Honda confirms CR-Z sports-hybrid

Green light: The Honda CR-Z hybrid sports car is set for production next year, with Australian arrival expected in 2011.

Honda CR-Z hybrid sportscar to follow petrol-electric Insight on sale here in months

23 Oct 2009

By MARTON PETTENDY in TOKYO

HONDA has confirmed its hybrid CR-Z sportscar will enter production early next year before arriving Down Under in 2011, just months after the new-generation hybrid Insight hatchback finally goes on sale here.

Revealed in ‘CR-Z Concept 2009’ guise at this week’s Tokyo motor show, the three-door petrol-electric Honda hatch has now been confirmed as the world’s first hybrid vehicle to come with a six-speed manual transmission.

It will be mated to a derivation of the Insight’s mild-hybrid drive system, which combines a 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine with an electric motor.

“We plan to launch a production automobile based on the CR-Z Concept 2009 in Japan in February of next year, and then in Europe and North America,” said Honda CEO and president Takanobu Ito in Tokyo.

While the CR-Z is yet to be officially confirmed for release in Australia, exactly when it arrives here depends on demand for the right-hand drive version in markets like Japan and the UK.

The Insight has been one of Japan’s most popular vehicles since it was launched there earlier this year, and was previously forecast to arrive here in the first half of next year.

15 center imageLeft: Honda U3-X.

Honda Australia sales and marketing general manager Stephen Collins told GoAuto the CR-Z was unlikely to be the subject of repeated delays like the Insight, the local release of which has now been pushed back to late 2010.

“From what I’m hearing even if it’s highly successful here I don’t think that will push our timing out. I’m not expecting anything along those lines,” he said.

“(But) There is no chance of the CR-Z being (in Australia in) 2010 – it’s more of a 2011 proposition,” he said.

Further delays in the local release of the Insight could mean the CR-Z arrives here just months after its five-door hybrid sibling.

“We’re just in the final throes of confirming it (the Insight) for Australia, but we’re certainly looking at late next year – and it will be quite late,” he said.

Mr Collins indicated that although it would not undercut the $30,000 pricetag previously targeted by Honda, the Insight still would be cheaper than its most direct rival in Toyota’s Prius, which starts from $40,000.

“I don’t think it will be sub-$30,000 and it will depend on the exchange rate at the time. We’re working through the business case for it now.

“We’re not looking for it to be premium and when you’re talking premium you’re talking $40,000s to $50,000s.

“We want it to fit into our range as an affordable hybrid, so while (sales) volumes are difficult to predict, at this stage it will bear no resemblance with the original Insight in terms of volumes.

“We want to make it affordable and that’s where we think it needs to fit.” Honda believes the Insight will not cannibalise sales of the Civic Hybrid, which averages around 50 of the 700 to 800 Civic sales attracted monthly.

“Civic Hybrid has a different type of buyer and is still doing reasonable volumes for us,” said Mr Collins. “We’re still putting the final touches on where we’re going to position it, but our expectation is that it will be incremental, not substitutional, for Civic Hybrid.” As for the CR-Z, Mr Collins said it was far too early to predict the local price of the world’s first hybrid sportscar.

“I wouldn’t even have a guess (at pricing) at this point in time,” he said. “We don’t want it to be a massively niche sort of vehicle. I think we want to position it for some reasonable (sales) volume.

“Being the world’s first hybrid sportscar it’s got some real appeal and I think it really fits well into Honda’s brand values of sportiness and technology. It will definitely be lower volume than Insight, but the volume is just too early to say at this stage.” Mr Collins said the CR-Z would have no direct competitor, but nominated the Mini as its nearest rival in the market.

“We’re still working through what it will go up against,” he said. “There are really no competitors for it as a hybrid, but I guess you’re up against some of the European vehicles like the Mini.

“I’m not saying that is our defined or core competitor, but that’s the sort of car we’ll be up against.

“The CR-Z will be all-new territory. We very keen to get it. It’s a great car for the brand and it’s certainly on our shopping list. Honda has a rich heritage in sportscars and it would really fit the bill.” The Insight will follow next February’s facelifted CR-V compact SUV as Honda Australia’s major launch for 2010.

Apart from the CR-Z Concept 2009, a retro-styled battery-electric mini-car concept dubbed the EV-N, the latest version of the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle and the six-seater Skydeck hybrid people-mover concept, Honda also used the Tokyo show to debut a one-wheeled experimental personal mobility device called the U3-X.

Employing the same balance control technology developed for Honda’s Asimo robot, which is able to stand, walk and run, the U3-X detects changes in its rider’s body weight to adjust its speed and direction.

Presumably designed for those that think walking is just too strenuous, on-stage demonstrations showed the unicycle-like U3-X is remarkably stable and has the ability to move, turn and stop in all directions according to shifts in its rider’s upper body, making it hands-free.

The U3-X is just 315mm long, 160mm wide and 650mm high, putting its rider’s eyes at the same level as other ‘pedestrians’, and weighs less than 10kg. It is powered by a lithium-ion battery that lasts up to an hour.

According to Honda: “The compact device is an experimental technology at this stage and Honda will continue research and development, including testing in real-world situations, to confirm the practicality of the technology.”

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