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By Mark Kleis

Historically, Honda has been identified as a leader in environmentally friendly and high-efficiency vehicles, but recently the automaker has struggled to deliver class-leading products, and due to policy choices, risks falling further behind the competition.

Toyota has established itself as a strong leader in the hybrid market, offering numerous hybrid vehicles, including the class-leading Prius gas-electric hybrid. Honda, by contrast, lagged behind Toyota and the rest of the market introducing hybrid vehicles, and those it has introduced have failed to make meaningful impacts either technologically, or in sales.

Other automakers, such as Ford with its Escape and Fusion hybrids – both class-leading in fuel economy, and Nissan, with its upcoming electric Leaf which is already sold out for 2010, are moving ahead with advancement previously thought to be exclusively available to Toyota and Honda.

Honda took a gamble when it decided that pure electric and hybrid vehicles would not be important vehicles in the near future, and as those markets expand the Japanese automaker is forced to play catchup. According to Reuters, Honda’s CEO, Takanobu Ito, told reporters Tuesday that he believed, “There needs to be a major breakthrough in battery technology [for electric vehicles to be viable].”

Ito also suggested that it will likely take 10-20 years before purely electric, battery-powered vehicles would be viable mainstream alternatives to fossil-fuel powered vehicles. As a direct result of Ito’s beliefs, the automaker has fallen behind in the development of partnerships and technology for cutting-edge electric vehicles, and as such, hopes to tap into the resources available in China to potentially find a way to catch up to the competition.

“If there is a suitable chance, we hope to work with China to (develop) batteries,” Ito said.

Honda does have an existing partnership with a potential partner to develop batteries for pure electric cars, but that partner is based in Japan and currently produces lithium-ion batteries for Honda’s gas-electric hybrid vehicles, as well as electric vehicles for Mitsubishi.



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