In a new article based on comments made by Steve Center, vice president of environmental business development at American Honda Motor, Automotive News reports that Honda’s EV version of their Clarity vehicle platform will focus more on size and price than long range. They expect that Honda will release the car with about an ~80 mile range and an expected pricetag in the area of $35,000.
While Honda would like to have released with a larger battery, the size constraints of the Clarity platform and price constraints of Honda’s brand identity led them to decide on a smaller battery than many other future EVs which have recently been announced by other automakers.
Honda’s previous EV efforts have been the “EV Plus” of the late ’90s and the Fit EV. Both were very limited production, and the Fit EV is only available in some states and only via lease. The Clarity EV will be their first serious, larger production BEV effort which can be purchased by consumers instead of only leased.
On the one hand, it’s actually nice to hear that Honda is focusing on price and size/weight issues rather than purely range, as ever-increasing ranges really are not necessary for EVs. At some point the price and weight of additional batteries outweighs the additional utility of more range, and it doesn’t make sense to be carrying around lots of extra batteries which most drivers won’t use. I’ve long been critical of the excessive focus automakers and non-EV-owners have on range above all else, when there are so many other aspects of the electric driving experience which are important. A phrase I’ve heard is “only ICE drivers have range anxiety”, referring to the fact that EV owners typically find that they require much less range than they thought they would before buying their EV.
However, given that the Bolt EV costs around the same as the Clarity’s expected price but also has about three times as much range and is a very good car otherwise as well, it seems that Honda has missed the mark here.
If Honda is able to release the Clarity at a much lower price point than the Bolt EV – somewhere in the mid $20,000 range before incentives – then there would be some room for it in the market. There are plenty of people who could get along fine in their life with 80-some miles of range, and who would rather save $10,000 than buy a lot of extra batteries. As it is, though, it’s going to be hard for shoppers to compare it against a Model 3 or a Bolt EV and think that the Clarity is the better choice, unless it holds some really amazing secrets which set it apart from either of those two cars in terms of technology other than range.
The other strange point about price is that if Honda claims that “a pillar of the Honda brand is affordability” and that it was trying to avoid an “obscenely priced long-range electric car,” then their pricing on the Clarity EV does not jive very well with their theorized price for the fuel cell version of the same car. The fuel cell Clarity is estimated to cost around $60,000, but Honda only leases it and only in California. This means they can take advantage of state and federal credits and can lease the car to a select group of customers at an artificially low price, taking a hit on the cost of the car but recouping that hit by taking advantage of CARB credits which allow them to continue selling more-polluting cars in the state. One then wonders why Honda didn’t do the same with the Clarity EV, and make it a car more in line with the market the Model 3 and Bolt EV are targeting, and offer it at a similar lease cost as those two (the Bolt leases at $309/mo, whereas the Clarity FCX leases at $349/mo).
Honda also cites packaging concerns, an inability to fit more batteries into the Clarity platform, as one of the main reasons behind their choice. This brings up an inherent problem with appropriating a vehicle platform which was not built with EVs in mind and putting a battery powertrain in it. Having to share this platform with fuel cell and plug-in hybrid versions of the car means that the car doesn’t get engineered as an EV from the ground up, which inevitably leads to packaging compromises like this.
This is the reason that so many EVs on the market are somewhat underwhelming, and why the EVs which do get built as EVs from the ground up, like the Bolt EV and the Model S, garner so much praise and so many rewards. Automakers need to learn that shoehorning a whole new drivetrain technology and vehicle experience into an antiquated or compromise-built platform will leave them behind, always playing catch-up with companies that jump two feet first into the future.
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