While there are still only a few plug-in hybrid vehicles on the market, the concept of a plug-in hybrid is, by now, old news. This type of hybrid charges its batteries from a household outlet. This battery power is then used to propel the car using an electric motor, with a gasoline engine taking over once the batteries are exhausted.
There are two advantages to this approach. For people who drive shorter distances, most, if not all, of their driving will be done on electrical energy, which is cheaper than gasoline. There are also possible environmental advantages, depending on how the electricity is generated.
However, Honda is about to give this technology a new twist, once the new Accord plug-in hybrid arrives next year. Other updated versions of the Accord go on sale today.
At the 2013 Accord’s introduction last month in New York City, Yasuyuki Sando, Honda’s project leader for plug-in hybrid technology, was on hand to explain some of the Accord plug-in hybrid’s unique features. This new Accord, he says, has the most complicated and efficient powertrain in Honda’s history.
There are three major components: An electric motor powered by the battery, a generator and a gasoline engine. The gasoline engine can power the generator to propel the car using the electric motor, or, with the push of a console mounted button, it can completely recharge the battery. In addition, the gasoline engine can drive the car, with no transmission between the engine and drive wheels.
The electric motor is rated at 124 kW. The lithium-ion battery has a capacity of 6.7 kWh. It can be recharged in record time, requiring just 3.5 hours when using a 120-volt outlet. With a 240-volt level two charger, recharging takes an hour or less.
Since the gasoline engine will be off for much of the time, the car uses electric power steering. The air conditioner and heater are also electrically powered.
Honda uses an electric servo braking system for maximum energy recapture during stops. This regenerative process slows the car when the driver brakes by recharging the batteries. If more stopping power is needed, the regular brakes join the effort. As a byproduct, hybrid cars have impressively long brake pad life. Honda promises that this new system is both efficient and will provide the driver with excellent brake pedal feel, an attribute that has been missing in some other hybrids.
Total power output will be 196 horsepower, of which 137 comes from the gasoline engine. The driver will be able to monitor which power sources are contributing to the car’s operation using a hybrid meter cluster. In addition to speed, it always displays an electronic power/charge meter and a gauge that monitors gasoline and battery levels. A narrow and partial ring around the speedometer changes color and intensity. Drive efficiently, that is with a light foot on the accelerator pedal, and the color changes to a deep green glow.
Aerodynamics play a large role in this car’s highway fuel economy. The new Accord’s body shape is already efficient but is tweaked in the plug-in hybrid through underbody panels and a rear spoiler. Even the wheel covers are designed to reduce drag.
The last Accord Hybrid used technology to enhance performance as well as mileage. Such approaches have not swayed consumers who, when they hear “hybrid,” only imagine soaring fuel economy. When it arrives early next year, this new Accord Plug-In Hybrid should give these buyers just what they want.
<i>Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.</i>
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