Honda Insight - Part 2
By Josh Landess
EVW: What was taken out of the learning experience from the EV Plus that we might find in the Honda Civic Hybrid?
SE: First and foremost, the electric motor, called Integrated Motor Assist, is used to start the vehicle. So rather than having the typical line of a gear engagement type starter, that was taken out.
The heating and air-conditioning system is another one. Where it's set on auto, we can dial down the temperature and it's a more efficient use of the accessories like the air-conditioning. We have it set that way rather than kind of "low, medium, high". The air-conditioner of a traditional vehicle puts added load on the engine and hurts fuel economy. But with a temperature control system like this. ...
Also, notice the idle stop. When you come to a stop the engine actually shuts off.
This last point took a bit of the wind out of my sails because it's one of the great advantages of Electric Vehicles... that they do not throw away their fuel at stop lights. Of course, I'd heard that some of the Hybrids were implementing this feature nicely, but to experience it in such a well-thought-out vehicle really took away a point of contrast between the Honda EV Plus and the Civic Hybrid.
EVW: I had read somewhere that a Toyota expert had expressed that they'd found an inherent engineering challenge to designing a hybrid, and that they were somewhat skeptical of those who were behind catching up easily. I was unable to recall the precise engineering difficulty the expert had had in mind.
SE: I don't know what they would be referring to.
The one difference is that the (IMA) system is a simpler system than Toyota's and the packaging is a lot easier to accommodate. We basically have your two-inch thick motor sandwiched between the internal combustion engine and the transmission. So the packaging of those are very simple to do.
Here we've packaged that entire system to fit handsomely in an existing platform that's a very popular mass produced car, and that's the Civic. So that's very significant. That's the first one to have been done that way, and it retains almost all of the trunk space with very little inconvenience to the driver.
I remarked that I'm interested in the issues that come up in human interaction with technology and autos in particular. Whether it's my interest in better audio equipment (how exactly do I define a better amp?) or in a better or different car. Usually, you either have engineers or you have behaviorists, but it's not every day that they work well together to design technology. The Civic Hybrid seemed to have been designed with some lengthy attention to the interface.
EVW: I saw one Honda Insight owner talking about how they noticed their behavior change when they were following the mileage meter, and how challenging it was and how much they enjoyed it.
SE: The way we refer to that is like a video game. When you play a video game and then you compete with others, what are you aiming for? It's called high score. So, when you have instrumentation on a vehicle that provides the user with that human/machine interface, it gives them that feedback. All of a sudden now, you can alter your driving characteristics to shoot for or aim for that high score. So you can see now the correlation between your action and the result of the vehicle. In this case, the fuel economy.
The instrument in the Civic Hybrid will show real-time fuel economy in miles per gallon as you drive and it will display your fuel economy for that trip or for the life of the vehicle. So Insight drivers were the first to pick up on that and they now brag about the life of the vehicle fuel economy. So they start shooting for that high score.
EVW: It becomes a cumulative high score where you can't unplug the machine?
SE: That's right. You can reset it just like you can reset your trip meter, but the vehicle does maintain its lifetime score.
As for regen braking, you have an interface that shows either charging or assist. As you accelerate you'll see the bars go to the right and that shows how much assist it has. You can vary the throttle and you'll see it. Then when you either let off on the accelerator or hit the brakes, you'll see the charge side. So that's the real time display of whether it's charging or using the electric motor. The dash shows your battery state of charge. It's constantly doing kind of this checks and balance accounting, so to speak, and it's truly adjusting.
EVW: That's a lot of feedback that you're giving the driver. The EV1 also is very good about giving the driver feedback on anticipated range.
SE: The EV Plus is that way too where it looks at how you're driving the vehicle. On the EV Plus it shows: Here's your range if you drive me perfectly. And that's the maximum available range. Here's your range if you keep driving me the way you are. And then if you want to back off and drive it easier it will compensate. So if you said I know I have 80 miles to go. If I keep going at this pace it's telling me I'm only going to go 60. I'd better alter my driving. And it lets you do that.
EVW: It was impossible to avoid remarking that I liked the lighted dashboard and the visibility of other features in the daytime.
SE: It's actually the nicest Civic instrumentation package we make. Almost every review that's been done has uniquely pointed that out. They said that the instrumentation package on the Civic Hybrid is spot on because it's not obtrusive. It's not too much information and it's integrated nicely into a very traditional-looking package, yet has that blue hue, which gives it a nice high tech look. [....] The Prius is often compared to the Civic Hybrid, but it has a very large screen in the middle with lots of information going on and that leans heavily toward the tech side. This one leans a lot closer to the mainstream consumer.
When I run across the comparison of extremely good fossil fuel vehicles to electric vehicles, I like to say look, with an electric vehicle you are (aside from biofuels) for the first time giving people a different choice in where their fuel can come from. They finally might be able to drive without doing business with an Oil Company. It's undetermined how that electricity's going to be made. It could come from a local coal plant, natural gas plant, solar energy, whatever.
SE: There are a lot of options for electricity, yup.
EVW: Unless you take the first step, unless you put that vehicle in folks' hands, you can never get to the next step. So, while I have to agree with you that where there's a dirtier or outdated power plant you've gone backwards and not forwards, I'm for making that fuel sourcing choice available on the grounds that then the next step can be dealt with as a separate issue. And, consumers could have a set of choices that they did not previously have.
SE: Look, there's no question Honda's not predisposed to oppose electricity as a source of power for vehicles, but the fact is, is that we'll sell three hundred fifty thousand Accords over the next year, three hundred fifty thousand Civics over the next year and the only barrier to those being these near zero emission vehicles in every state is the question of availability of low sulfur fuel. So we have a proven technology that for all of California will have a significant impact on smog forming emissions.
So we can do a lot, today, because the very point is that is what's going to happen. Those three hundred fifty thousand cars will be sold, and if we can accomplish the same thing, meet the same goal with what is already known to be a popular platform, and given the fact that alternatives to that are ten years away, it would be harmful to not strive to do what you can today in a cost effective manner.
EVW: I don't know if I should be argumentative or not, because I know that some readers will say you're not accomplishing the same thing because you're still using fossil fuels.
SE: The energy equation is very significant but we can't alter that, you know, tomorrow.
EVW: I certainly agree with that.
SE: This is kind of where we're at and we have to shift away from that and it will take time. There is no single switch we can flip and I think that more and more the public is interested in moving and shifting from the oil based economy that we have but you have to be practical and say what's it going to take to get there? And then how long will it take to get there? And what can we do in the meantime? So hybrids will have a place. I mean, as you can see with these new product announcements; this new Accord - it has better fuel economy. So we're providing a better value to the consumer with better fuel economy.
EVW: Do you see a larger percentage of the cars that you sell going forward, or even a majority, being equipped with regenerative brakes and some sort of hybridization?
SE: Well I think, you know, we have our second hybrid now out on the market. Its sales are tracking about where we expected it to be about 2000 cars a month. But Honda had said: we will apply hybrid technology to our products over time similar to how we did VTEC, another technology.
EVW: I see regen braking in particular as recycling the energy of motion.
SE: Regenerative braking is brilliant.
EVW: I love it. I've been astonished to see that some people actually don't think much of it. I see it just as a recycling program., and there is precedent in our society for recycling programs working, in a free society.
SE: You're recapturing wasted energy. It's that simple.
EVW: So where might we see more of it in upcoming Hondas?
SE: Well regenerative braking would be applied where you have the ability to capture it, and you have the ability to reapply it. So, that comes full circle back to Hybrid, or in our system, IMA.
Continued Next Week...
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