Honda rolls out new hybrid car

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Published: February 25,2010

Tags: automobile industry, Honda, product rollout

TOKYO — Honda launched its sporty new hybrid CR-Z on today, vowing to uphold quality amid spectacular woes at its archrival Toyota.

Japan’s No. 2 automaker said it hopes the sleek two-door hatchback will appeal to a younger set or empty-nesters who want a “green” car with a bit of pizazz. The car will go on sale in Japan on Friday and in the U.S. and Europe by midyear.

“Product quality is extremely important to us,” Chief Executive Takanobu Ito said at a press conference.

Ito declined to comment on the troubles facing Toyota Motor Corp., whose president Akio Toyoda faced questioning Wednesday by lawmakers in Washington over massive recalls that total about 8.5 million vehicles globally. Toyoda partly blamed the problems on expanding too rapidly.

Far from gloating about Toyota’s struggles, Ito highlighted the challenges facing automakers as they expand abroad. When Honda grew rapidly around the world in the 1990s, it also experienced an increase in complaints from customers, he said.

Honda Motor Co. said the Japan price for the CR-Z is a relatively affordable 2.268 million yen ($25,300) for the basic model and 2.498 million yen ($27,900) for the top-end model. Prices elsewhere haven’t been decided yet.

The car is Honda’s attempt to bring a bit of flair to the hybrid market. Designs have been dominated by the boxy lines and sloping roofs of four-door sedans like the Prius, which was Japan’s best-selling car last year. The CR-Z features a compact profile and roadster look.

Its debut comes two weeks after Toyota recalled nearly 440,000 Priuses and other hybrids for faulty brakes amid complaints about a slight delay in the brakes working in cold conditions or on bumpy roads. Toyota has since begun fixing the problem by reprogramming the brake software.

Honda says its braking system for hybrids uses different technologies from Toyota’s, and it has not received complaints from owners of hybrid cars that their brakes don’t work properly.

Honda has had its own recall issues lately, too.

Earlier this month, it added 437,000 vehicles to its 15-month-old global recall for faulty air bags, bringing the total number of cars recalled to nearly 1 million. The recall includes certain 2001 and 2002 Accord sedans, Civic compacts, Odyssey minivans and CR-V small sport utility vehicles.

The CR-Z — which stands for Compact Renaissance Zero — also offers drivers three drive modes: sport, normal and economy. Sport mode enhances the car’s performance, while economy mode maximizes fuel economy. The 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine is available in 6-speed manual transmission or with a continuously variable transmission.

The vehicle is Honda’s fourth hybrid model following the Insight — introduced last year to go head-to-head against Toyota’s Prius — and hybrid versions of its Civic and Accord models. Hybrid cars deliver better mileage by switching back and forth between an electric motor and conventional gasoline engine.

Honda hopes the CR-Z will “broaden the potential for the hybrid market” and “enable customers to experience a new kind of excitement,” it said in a release.

But it has modest sales goals, at least initially, aiming to sell 1,000 vehicles a month.

The company said the car gets an average 25 kilometers per liter (58.8 miles per gallon) under Japanese conditions and calculation methods. Under U.S. calculation methods, the CR-Z gets 36 miles per gallon for city driving and 38 miles per gallon on highways.

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