Friday, November 3, 2017

Honda is Going to Electrify the World


The opening montage seems to play normally at first: the Honda logo, with its eponymous tagline, “The Power of Dreams” fades to black followed by the glow of an Engine Start Button. The unnamed driver presses it and what follows is a montage of nature, children playing under a blue sky, and even more nature. One by one, the hybrids, EVs, and even Honda’s fuel cell vehicles are given the hero treatment. They are undoubtedly the front and center in this video with the NSX and the Civic Type R relegated to an also-starring role. Things are about change at Honda and this video just set the tone.

With the automotive landscape now dancing to a different beat: the shift of consumer preference, the advancement of urban centers, the aging of society, and the changing of climate now dictating what sells and what doesn’t, Honda is re-orienting itself not just to thrive, but to survive.

Echoing founder Soichiro Honda who said: “We only have one future, and it will be made of our dreams, if we have the courage to challenge convention”, the industrial giant that bears his name prepares itself for the challenge. In order to realize its long-term Vision 2030 philosophy, they are investing heavily in electrification, charting an entirely different path for the company once known for its high-revving, free-wheeling VTEC engines.


Honda has made it their goal to electrify two-thirds of their global vehicle line-up in the next 13 years. Considering that that figure stands at 5 percent, it sounds like a daunting task. Yet, they are confident that it’s doable. With their strength lying in their broad technical capabilities (they make everything from motorcycles to aircraft to humanoid robots), Honda aims to cultivate them, expanding their efforts in the development of technology, specifically one that promotes a clean society.

While pure electrification is still some decades away, Honda sees the implementation of gasoline-electric hybrids as the first logical step. Since it doesn’t require any sort of infrastructure to work like charging or hydrogen filling stations, it can be deployed globally at a much quicker pace. Having started on gasoline-hybrid technology with the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) in 1999, Honda now realized that to increase its acceptance, not one solution fits all segments.

Today, Honda uses three different hybrid systems depending on the size of the vehicle. These are i-DCD (Intelligent Dual-Clutch Drive), i-MMD (Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive), and SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive)—all part of the Sports Hybrid family.



On smaller cars such as the Jazz, City, and Freed, Honda has the i-DCD. Considered as the spiritual successor to the IMA or Integrated Motor Assist, this compact yet highly efficient system realizes low fuel consumption while still delivering peppy performance. It allows a Honda equipped with the i-DCD to switch between EV-only mode and a gasoline-electric Hybrid Drive mode using just the accelerator pedal as the judge.

There are three components anchored by a 1.5-liter DOHC i-VTEC engine and a small, high-torque motor with a high-current lithium-ion battery. The third component provides the “brain” managing the two engines using the Hybrid Drive dual clutch transmission.



While the i-DCD prioritizes compactness and simplicity, the i-MMD system used in larger vehicles such as the Accord, CR-V, and Odyssey go for maximum efficiency. It uses a system of 5 interlinked systems: a 2.0-liter DOHC i-VTEC engine, two electric motors, a power control unit, an engine-linked clutch, and a lithium-ion battery.

What’s clever about the i-MMD is that there is no transmission, at least in the traditional sense. There are four gearsets between the electric and combustion power sources and the front wheels, but all drive ratios are fixed. The powertrain provides three standard propulsion modes: electric-only, gasoline-only, and combined gas and electric, without shifting gears or varying a planetary ratio.

Honda’s “secret sauce” takes away the conventional transmission and torque converter. And with no pulleys and one fixed gear, it delivers 46 to 80 percent less friction compared to a conventional automatic. However, the best thing is that it delivers performance equivalent to a 3.0-liter V6 with none of the rubber-band effect acceleration commonly associated with hybrids equipped with CVTs.



At the performance end of Honda’s Sport Hybrid technology is SH-AWD. Equipped in Honda’s flagship vehicles such as the Legend and NSX, SH-AWD ups the i-DCD and i-MMD by having not one, not two, but three motors all in all. In front is an internal combustion engine (with an integrated electric motor) while at the back is a pair of electric motors as well.

Like i-MMD, the system varies seamlessly between electric-only, gasoline-only, and combined gas and electric modes. For instance, take-off is done using the rear electric motors while the gasoline engine kicks in during light acceleration. Meanwhile, at low speed cruising, the gasoline engine is cut off once more with propulsion coming from the rear motors providing thrust. Full acceleration awakens the entire system as a whole while high-speed cruising is done primarily by the gasoline engine.

The “Super Handling” part comes courtesy of the independent rear electric motors which act like a torque vectoring system. Not only can it vary the amount of power being supplied, in some situations, energy can even be taken from one motor (in this case, the inside wheel) through regenerative braking to supply power to the outside wheel motor wheel. This causes the rear-end of the car to pull around reducing its tendency to understeer. In short, SH-AWD doesn’t just improve fuel economy, but it can actually make a vehicle corner like it’s on rails.

With annual sales growing at a rate of 13 percent year-on-year, Honda considers the Asia & Oceania region as an important cornerstone for its sustained growth. While Mr. Shinji Aoyama, Chief Officer for Regional Operations maintains that his short-term goal is to make Honda cars more affordable, he realizes that electrification will soon follow. Making cars more affordable and yet equipping them with more technology may seem irreconcilable, but coming up with a multiprong solution is a way to solve the issues revolving cost and complexity. All in all, it’s an elegant solution to an interesting challenge. It sums up what drives the company and its people for close to 70 years.

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