Honda is setting aggressive sales goals for its upcoming all-electric Prologue SUV, though limited availability and concerns around EV subsidies could hamper those ambitions. A collaboration with GM, the Honda Prologue will be based on the Ultium battery-electric platform, though isn’t expected to go on sale until 2024.
Honda has been fairly miserly with details about the SUV, though the general promise is a distinctly Honda-esque vehicle that distinguishes itself from GM models based on the EV platform. An Acura version will follow shortly after that. Beyond Prologue, meanwhile, the automaker plans more EVs using its own e-Architecture platform.
That’s still in development, but Honda needs to get it right. The automaker is aiming for 70,000 annual sales of the Prologue when it arrives in 2024; by 2030, though, it’s anticipating BEV sales of 500,000 each year. Come 2040, Honda insists, it should only be selling electric vehicles. That’s a huge jump from where Honda is today, without a single all-electric model on sale in the US.
Demand for electrified vehicles, Honda insists, has been solid. Vehicles like the CR-V Hybrid and Accord Hybrid have helped make the first half of 2021 its best so far for electrified models, the automaker claims.
Still, it’s fair to say that Honda’s electric transition hasn’t been a straightforward one. Expectations were high for the Clarity series, a broad range of electrified vehicles that included pure-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell models. All have since been discontinued, however, with questions in each case about the market competitiveness of each model.
In contrast, Honda has pushed ahead with regular hybrids: vehicles that combine combustion engines with battery-electric drive that is charged via excess ICE engine power or when the vehicle is braking. These can have a positive impact on fuel economy – the 2022 Insight, for example, is rated for up to 55 mpg in the city – but are far from zero-emissions.
Honda’s argument is that such hybrids offer drivers a reassuring taste of electrification. “We know customers who have a good experience with a hybrid vehicle are more likely to buy a battery electric vehicle in the future,” Dave Gardner, executive vice president of National Operations at American Honda Motor Co., Inc, points out. “Our strategy is focused on introducing a higher percentage of hybrids in core models in the near term, making a committed effort to achieve higher volume leading to the introduction of our Honda Prologue.”
The 2024 Prologue, though, won’t be a golden bullet to Honda’s EV problem. For a start, it’s going to be limited in availability, at least to begin with: just California and the ZEV states. The automaker argues that those regions would comprise the bulk of sales anyway, and that a broader release will follow later on.
Honda’s stance that the buying public needs that sort of convincing is at odds with many of its rivals. GM itself has been pushing ahead with Ultium, with the Cadillac Lyriq already opening for reservations, the GMC Hummer EV over-subscribed, and the promise of a Chevrolet Silverado EV in the relatively near future. Ford, meanwhile, has been even more aggressive, with the Mustang Mach-E proving a hit in the electric crossover segment, and the F-150 Lightning bringing an all-EV version of the best-selling pickup to market in spring 2022.
Even Honda management has conceded that its roadmap may not be as forceful as is required. The European Green Deal, revealed in July, paves the way for zero-emissions-only sales of vehicles in the EU by 2035; that’s five years ahead of the transition on Honda’s all-electric timeline. In the US, it also sees worrying implications around the proposed changes for EV subsidies.
Where the current federal incentive for electric vehicles promises up to $7,500, new proposals could increase that to as much as $12,500. However, in order to qualify for the full amount, automakers would need to not only produce their EVs in the US, but in unionized factories. Honda ticks the first of those boxes, but not the second.
“As with other automakers, Honda’s initial zero emission vehicle sales goals of 40 percent by 2030 are contingent upon fair and equitable access to state and federal EV incentives intended to encourage American consumers to purchase electric vehicles,” the automaker said today. “Honda has urged Congress to ensure that all vehicles made in America are treated equally.”
Tesla – which also operates US factories, but without a union workforce – has also been critical about the possible update to the incentives system. Final changes for the US EV tax credits have not been confirmed at this point.