2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
Lou Ann Hammond, Sun, 25 Sep 2005 08:00:00 PDT
There are probably fifty vehicles that would cost less over a five year period, including financing and gas, than a Honda Civic hybrid, or any hybrid. That hasn't stopped them from flying off the car lots before the first fume can hit the ground.
According to Karen Morley, Visteon, when people buy their cars fuel economy is not in the top five reasons that come to mind. Morley said, though, that after they had the vehicle for a period of time fuel economy goes way up in the "look how much this thing is costing me" factor.
That is the difference between the hybrids and the conventional internal combustion engine (ICE). People who buy hybrids say that one of the major reasons they purchase a hybrid is because they fear the price of gas rising and they don't want to get caught. They are also part of the contingent that realizes that the only way to get people to use less fuel is to raise the price of gasoline. This would mean the cost of hybrid wouldn't be so out of line with its gas counterpart if the price of gas went up. I was talking to a guy the other day that bought a Lexus RX 400h over the RX 330. His reasoning was that it was the best technology we had and he was willing to put the extra $11,000 forward to help the research and development towards an even better technology, aka fuel cells. But they also require the vehicle to be competent.
The new 2006 Civic hybrid is a competent contender, not just for internal combustion engines, but for its hybrid competitor as well. Partly, because the Civic has had a full redo in its line-up. We can do the numbers of which are better economically over a five year period, but remember, most people that buy hybrids don't buy them just because of fuel economy, just like most people who buy conventional cars don't necessarily think of fuel economy when they buy their vehicles, especially those Hummer owners.
The Civic was the first Honda shipped to the United States. Back in the '70s Honda was known for its motorcycles, much like Suzuki. Honda brought their unpretentious little 4-cylinder out and they've been redesigning it, for better or worse, since then. In 2003, Honda brought out the Civic hybrid and this year its grown bigger in everyway.
Honda has upped its hybrid from 93 horsepower to 110 horsepower, which is exactly the same horsepower as the Prius. The miles per gallon (MPG) has risen as well. According to Consumer reports the Toyota Prius doesn't get anywhere near the EPA rated 60/51, coming in instead at 35/50 (city/highway) with a combined rating of 44mpg. The Honda Civic comes in at 50 mpg, according to EPA, but Honda says more around 45. The engine incorporates Honda's Intelligent Variable Valve Timing and lift Electronic Control (I-VTEC) a new generation of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology that helps the hybrid achieve an estimated city/highway fuel economy of 50/50 miles per gallon and an Advanced-Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) rating which increases its efficiency.
The whole Civic line-up was aging, but starting October 5th, Honda brings out their new line-up of Civics and that includes the newly designed $21,500 Civic hybrid. This could make things fun to watch; according to J.D. Powers' Power Information Network the average transaction price of a Prius is $24,980. Prius' look like they're going to sell about 130,000 units this year, while the Civic hybrid is projected to sell 30,000. Honda says they're looking to sell about the same next year, but they maybe surprised. The Civic hybrid is an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) that gets over 45 mpg. This qualifies the Civic hybrid to be in the carpool lane with only a solo passenger. The owner also gets a tax incentive on their taxes. And if you're in San Jose, CA you can have your hybrid valet parked for free at the Fairmont Hotel.
The Honda Civic hybrid drives well. The machine I drove had a whirring in the regenerative braking that Honda engineers said would be gone by production time. I drove the 2005 recently and it had the same problem, but not as pronounced. New standard features on all models and trim levels include:Side curtain airbags and front side airbags Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) Body Structure Anti-lock brakes (with 4-channel ABS and Electronic Brake istribution) Active front seat head restraints Telescoping steering wheel (in addition to tilt) Honda's Satellite-Linked Navigation System and XM Satellite Radio.
While a regular Civic has mega competitors, the Civic hybrid has only one - the impenetrable Toyota Prius. Whether it's better marketing or because the Prius looks so different, the Prius is outselling the Civic 4 to 1. Toyota may tell you it is because the Prius look different, but if Toyota had really thought the difference was because the Civic didn't look different enough they wouldn't have built the Lexus RX 400h and the Toyota Highlander hybrid to look the same as the conventional counterpart. So, what is the difference? Why is the Toyota Prius selling so much better than the Honda Civic hybrid?
According to Anthony Pratt, Senior Manager of J.D. Power, there is very little brand changing between hybrids. That means that Toyota buyers buy Toyota hybrids and Honda buyers buy Honda hybrids.
The difference may lie in the Honda demographics itself. Are Toyota buyers the Saab buyers of yesteryear? Do Honda owners see the Civic as a very sensible choice already and there is no need to buy a hybrid that will cost more over a five-year period to run than the Civic SI?
All Manufacturers are watching this phenomenon carefully. Manufacturers are willing to make hybrids, but they need to be able to do it on an existing line, such as a Ford Escape or a Honda Civic. If you think hybrids are expensive now, imagine what the price would be if each vehicle had to be a new design.