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Honda aims to become US EV major through Sony, GM tie-ups

Honda aims to become US EV major through Sony, GM tie-ups
Honda aims to become US EV major through Sony, GM tie-ups 1

Honda aims to become US EV major through Sony, GM tie-ups
The 2024 Honda Prologue shares many components with the General Motors EV platform. (Honda pic)

DETROIT: Long sceptical of fully electric vehicles, Honda finds itself in a race to catch up to rivals, as its first long-range EV targeting the US market is still a year away from production – a distinct problem considering there will be more than 50 EV models in American showrooms by then.

That has forced the third-largest Japanese automaker to ask for help from a traditional competitor, General Motors. But Honda is also readying a second joint venture with consumer electronics giant Sony. With Honda rapidly ramping up its EV programme, company officials hope these alliances can help overcome a late start and gain a solid foothold in the emerging EV market.

In recent weeks, Honda has offered new insight into the two joint ventures, starting with a GM alliance. This will bring two products to market, the first being the 2024 Honda Prologue. A yet-unnamed Acura crossover will follow months later.

Honda released images of the Prologue earlier this month, and it adheres closely to the automaker’s familiar design. But underneath the skin it is pretty much all GM. Both Prologue and the Acura crossover will share the same Ultium platform, batteries and motors used for GM vehicles like the new Cadillac Lyriq, as well as the Chevrolet Equinox and Blazer models set to launch next year.

For Honda, the alliance with GM has a number of advantages. Most significantly, it helps put an all-electric vehicle in showrooms several years ahead of when it could have on its own.

Last April, Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe announced plans to aggressively ramp up the company’s EV programme, which includes the development of an in-house platform dubbed eArchitecture. But the first products using that platform will not be ready until at least 2026. And the longer Honda waits, the harder it will be to catch up, according to Sam Abuelsamid, principal auto analyst with Guidehouse Insights.

But GM also benefits from the alliance, said Abuelsamid. For one, sharing batteries, motors and other key components should help boost the US automaker’s economies of scale, which translates into lower production costs. And with typical EVs currently costing at least US$5,000 more than comparable gasoline-engine models, that could make vehicles like the Honda Prologue a bit more competitive.

The alliance with GM was already in place when Mibe took over as CEO in 2021. But he has accelerated Honda’s electrification efforts – shifting away from conventional and plug-in hybrids in favour of more all-electric models. This past April, marking his first anniversary as CEO, Mibe announced that Honda would ramp up investment in futuristic technologies, including robots and flying taxis. But the vast majority of that ¥5 trillion (US$40 billion) programme will go into EVs.

This now includes a second alliance with GM focusing on even lower-cost electrics that could serve as the battery-powered alternative to such entry-level models as the HR-V crossover and compact Civic family.

But Mibe is not comfortable with all his eggs in one basket. Honda is also pursuing a second partnership, this one with Sony. The two companies announced plans to partner at CES in January, however it was not until Oct 14 that they offered insight into what they will eventually unveil. During a Tokyo media briefing, they announced plans to launch a new line of Sony-branded EVs in early 2026 with a focus on autonomy, augmentation and affinity – or what they term the 3As.

As one might expect of a car bearing Sony’s name, the Sony-Honda EVs will be loaded with high-tech features including the latest infotainment system capable of delivering streaming audio and video, as well as the ability to map out routes for hands-free driving under certain conditions. And, where possible, the vehicles will be able to connect with public transportation.

The Sony project will use Honda’s new eArchitecture platform. Exactly what vehicle – or vehicles – the partners will produce is yet to be revealed, but they have offered a few hints with concept models like the Sony Vision-S 01. A prototype displayed at the Tokyo briefing appeared to have a driving range of at least 333km per charge, though it is widely expected that the production model would need to almost double that by mid-decade to be competitive.

Though the Sony-Honda media briefing was held in Japan, the US is expected to be a key market for the partners. Indeed, a day earlier officials at American Honda Motor told reporters the company will spend US$700 million to upgrade three plants in Ohio to handle the production of electric vehicles. It appears that at least one of those facilities will be used for the Sony-Honda venture.

The upgrades will focus on vehicles using Honda’s own eArchitecture platform. But it will likely take until late this decade before those factories are fully utilised. Until then, Honda will remain heavily dependent on its alliance with GM, especially in the US market.

Honda aims to become US EV major through Sony, GM tie-ups 1
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