UTSUNOMIYA, Japan — They might be only prototypes, but the tire-squealing electric sports car and two self-driving sedans on display at Honda's global r&d center here last week underscore the automaker's determination to get moving into the future.
Honda used the demonstration to pull the wraps off a new attack plan to catch up in future technology fields where it has fallen behind the competition.
The automaker demonstrated a four-motor high-performance EV prototype based on the Acura NSX sports car. A professional driver floored it up and down a test track — almost silently, except for the screeching tires — doing doughnuts until the smell of burning rubber wafted across the tarmac.
Honda has long been an EV skeptic, dabbling with small-volume cars for regulatory compliance while rivals such as Nissan rolled out mass market nameplates, and others, such as Ford and VW, announced big plans for electrification across their lineups. Toyota, another late-coming former EV skeptic, joined the bandwagon last year by establishing its own EV development division.
Honda now says a newly launched Electric Vehicle Development Division will create EVs based on dedicated all-electric platforms. That is a departure from Honda's current stance.
Under the automaker's existing plans, its Clarity green car platform will get an EV variant. But that EV relies on a multi-use platform designed to accommodate the other two technologies of the Clarity trio, a plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
At the same time, Honda last week previewed an autonomous car technology that it intends to bring to market in 2020.
Demonstrated in an Acura RLX sedan, the system allowed its driver to shift into self-driving mode with the push of a button on the steering wheel. It lapped Honda's high-speed oval track in that mode, automatically changing lanes to pass slower cars at speeds of 60 mph.