Japanese brands have been lagging behind the electric vehicle (EV) game. It's not a problem that's unique to Toyota which has always been known to resist EVs. Even Honda knows this, and at the recently concluded 2023 Auto Shanghai, the huge influx of innovative and radically-designed Chinese EVs made it realize how far behind it is in the world's biggest car market and the world's biggest EV market. That's also somewhat the case in North America because apart from the recently-unveiled Honda Prologue that borrows GM's Ultium platform and battery tech, it has no other EV available in our market - let alone one that it developed on its own.
Honda Is Fighting Back In A Big Way
In a market where SUVs and pickups dominate, Honda doesn't have an EV in this segment, or at least not yet since the Prologue won't be ready until 2024. Electric compact crossover SUVs like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Kia EV6, and Hyundai Ioniq 5 have all experienced runaway success, which leaves Japanese automakers like Honda lagging behind in the EV race. That's about to change in the coming years as Honda officially outlined its plans on how to compete with the impressive EVs that American, European, and Korean automakers have released over the past few years.
Honda says by 2030, it hopes to produce more than two million EVs annually. To achieve that, it needs to create EVs that will attract the needs of two of the world's biggest car markets - China and the United States. For the latter, Honda will be releasing a "mid- to large-size EV" model - presumably a rival to the likes of the new Kia EV9. But for this upcoming large EV, it won't anymore ask GM's help. Instead, it'll use Honda's upcoming e:Architecture platform, and the Japanese automaker also plans to turn its Ohio plant into an EV production hub--presumably to comply with the Inflation Reduction Act that will reduce the cost of EVs.
Technology And Software Will Also Define Its EVs
As with every modern car nowadays, Honda's EVs will also be defined by the software that's embedded in its systems. In fact, Honda says that in the areas of user experience (UX) and digital services, the company is set to create a new Global User Experience Officer position and do a "proactive approach" to recruiting digital experts. Solid-state batteries are still a long way ahead to mass production, and like every automaker committed to EVs, Honda will begin operations of a demonstration line for the production of solid-state batteries in 2024. It is aiming to use solid-state batteries for models to be introduced to the market in the second half of the 2020s. To achieve this, Honda currently invests in and is jointly developing semi-solid-state batteries (lithium-metal secondary batteries) with SES AI Corporation (SES), an EV battery research and development company.
About That GM Partnership
With Honda finally creating an EV on its own, this doesn't mean it'll abandon its partnership with GM. In fact, that's set to strengthen in the coming years. Apart from collaborating to develop a series of affordable EVs that are set to go on sale in 2027, the two companies will continue exploring areas of collaboration that will combine the respective strengths of the two companies. Apart from the Honda Prologue, an Acura counterpart called the ZDX will also be unveiled. Like the Prologue, it's set to be released in 2024, but unlike the Prologue, the Acura will have a stronger focus on performance and luxury. Here's to hoping that a performance-oriented Type S model will also come out.
But Can Honda Catch Up?
In order to survive the EV age, Honda and basically all Japanese automakers have a lot of catching up to do. In addition, the Japanese automaker needs to be able to develop EVs on its own if they want to stand out in a segment dominated by EVs that aren't just simply meeting the needs of American consumers, but also desirable enough to buyers that would otherwise consider a vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE). This is exactly the tactic that Ford has done, which is why you have cars like the Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning, both of which aren't just EVs that meet American needs, but also their desires for a vehicle that's also emotionally evocative whether it's due to styling, performance, or technology.
This Isn't Just A Honda Problem, Though
As mentioned, this isn't a uniquely Honda problem. The entire Japanese auto industry has been slow to adopt and cultivate its EV industry as they've stuck too much on a wait-and-see approach, while Toyota in itself has been divisive when it comes to EVs. For the past few years, Japanese automakers have stood with the impression that sales of EVs will be small, but in markets such as China where 30-percent of new cars sold in 2022 were EVs, Japanese automakers are left without an attractive and viable competitor in the world's largest automotive market and also the world's largest EV market. While EV sales in the United States--the second largest automotive market--are still small at 5.6-percent of overall vehicle sales in 2022, it's still a near-double increase from 2021's 3.1-percent. This is a growth opportunity that Honda and other Japanese automakers would not want to miss as laws continue to favor EVs.