Honda has always poo-pooed the industry-wide move to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, stubbornly sticking to the idea that fuel-cell vehicles were the future. For example, it has been highly critical of GM’s Volt concept. Takeo Fukui, the company’s president, said in 2008 that he saw “no value in developing plug-in hybrid vehicles.” As recently as this May, the company’s head of research and development, Tomohiko Kawanabe, said it was questionable whether consumers will accept electric vehicles and the “annoyance” of limited driving range and the need to charge the vehicles. “We lack confidence (in the business),” he said. “We are definitely conducting research on electric cars, but I can’t say I can wholeheartedly recommend them.”
Two months later, the company is changing its tune. It announced today that it will begin selling two new plug-in electric vehicles in the United States in 2012, making it one of the last major automakers to join the electric vehicle party. One will be a small all-electric commuter vehicle, while the other will be a plug-in hybrid capable of travelling longer distances. Why the company suddenly changed its position is unclear, but being a loyal Honda driver I’m glad it came to its senses.