Honda plans to introduce a fuel-cell electric vehicle that would go on sale in the United States in 2015.
Takanobu Ito, Honda's president and CEO, announced the move in a wide-ranging speech in Japan today. He also laid out plans to increase sales by more than 40 percent over the next five years in the U.S., Japan and Europe, and to double sales in the developing world in that time.
"This new fuel cell vehicle will showcase further technological advancement and significant cost reduction that Honda has accomplished," he said, according to a transcript.
Honda has two assembly plants and a research and development office in central Ohio. Ito did not say where the fuel cell vehicle would be developed. However, the company tends to do its initial work on new technologies close to its Tokyo headquarters.
Ito said Honda considers fuel-cell electric vehicles to be the "ultimate environmentally-responsible vehicle."
A fuel-cell converts a fuel, often natural gas or hydrogen, into electricity. For years, auto engineers have said the fuel cells hold tremendous potential to reduce harmful emissions. Several automakers, including Toyota and General Motors, have also said they intend to build a fuel cell vehicle in 2015.
Honda is well-positioned to make the most of this initiative, said Pat Valenti, executive director of the Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition. He points to the FCX Clarity, a limited-release fuel-cell car that Honda has produced for a decade. The company has produced fewer than 100 of the hydrogen-fueled vehicle.
"They have been learning over the last four or five years what works and what doesn't work," he said. "If anything they're going to be a step ahead of the other companies."
His business group represents dozens of Ohio companies that build fuel cells and related components for a variety of uses.
While Valenti is excited about Honda's announcement, he also sees some big challenges. The largest obstacle is the lack of infrastructure to fuel the vehicles, he said.
Ito laid out some ambitious sales goes. In "mature markets" -- which includes the U.S., Japan and Europe -- he wants auto sales to increase from an estimated 2.06 million units this year to 3 million in 2017. In developing markets -- which includes India, China and others -- he wants sales to increase from about 1.5 million units this year to 3 million in 2017.
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