Honda's President Details Initiatives in Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Engines

Honda President Takeo Fukui laid out a vision for the company's future yesterday that was both clear and compact.

Jan. 12—DETROIT — Honda President Takeo Fukui laid out a vision for the company's future yesterday that was both

clear and compact.

Fukui, speaking during the North American International Auto Show, said he expects Honda to lead the industry with its

environmental and safety initiatives.

"Honda will not only meet the needs of our customers," he said, "we will achieve our goal of becoming a company that society

wants to exist."

Fukui brought the vision to life by announcing Honda has a variety of plans that includes unveiling a redesigned Civic in

September that will offer more safety features than any other subcompact.

Within the next several months, he said, Honda also will become the world's first automaker to put a hydrogen-fuel-cell car

into the hands of an American consumer for testing.

The 2005 Honda FCX will emit only water vapor. It also will be the first fuel-cell vehicle to operate in subzero


Allowing a consumer to test-market the car "is just a first step," Fukui said. "But it demonstrates that Honda's fuel-cell

technology is ready for real-world use."

Fukui said the new Civic will have features that now are on the Accord, including standard anti-lock brakes, side curtain air

bags, a bumper designed to prevent injuries to pedestrians and a steel frame that disperses the force of a crash.

Although Honda is touting safety, it is not alone. Nearly all domestic and international automakers were pushing safety at

the show.

"It appeared to be something that they were voluntarily promoting," said analyst Tom Libby, senior director of the Power

Information Network, an affiliate of J.D. Power and Associates.

"Safety was being pushed and it was not just in the luxury brands.

Value-oriented brands are including safety equipment as standard items."

The design and pricing for the Civic will not be disclosed until the release date. Current Civics, redesigned five years ago,

start around $13,500.

Fukui said Honda will seek individual consumers who are interested in becoming the first person to lease the FCX car. The

consumer will be hand-picked within several months. Ultimately, other test vehicles likely will be rolled out.

"We believe this technology will be a primary fuel source for the future," he said.

Honda has 11 FCX cars leased to the governments of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. Honda spokesman Andy Boyd

said those cars are used in fleets.

Fuel-cell vehicles use hydrogen gas. Boyd said the challenge with such cars is that they tend to freeze and not start below


But Honda's FCX operates at minus 4.

Boyd said the other challenge is that hydrogen fuel is not available in most areas. Southern California has some fueling


In order for the technology to be available on a widespread basis, more fueling stations would have to be built, which would

take years.

Fukui also hinted that Honda will develop more hybrid vehicles. It is the first automaker to have three hybrids — the

Civic, Accord and Insight. The 2005 hybrid Accord has a V-6 engine.

"This technology is applicable to the light-truck segment anytime," Fukui said.

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