Honda R&D conducts visionary research and development aimed at creating products that always meet or exceed customer expectations. By being organizationally separate from Honda Motor Co., the company provides engineers with an environment where they can focus on their work and freely explore ways to create new value. The top four members of Honda R&D management were gathered and asked to discuss the results of fiscal 2013 and share their individual dreams for the future.
President and CEO
●Yamamoto: Before we talk about the future course of product development, let's first review what happened in fiscal 2013, focusing on any products or technologies whose achievements you would like to emphasize.
●Suzuki: For motorcycles, we added new mid-size models equipped with the super-efficient 700-cc engine released in 2011. We also expanded our lineup of small commuter scooters powered by the next-generation 125-cc eSP engine. Both engines contribute to major reductions in CO2 emissions while offering fuel savings that make life easier for our customers.
●Nonaka: For automobiles, we began leasing in Japan the all-electric Fit EV which, as a zero-emission vehicle, provides the greatest environmental benefit. In North America, we released the Accord Plug-In, which comes with the most advanced powertrain in our Earth Dreams Technology line. Compared to other vehicles in its class, the Accord Plug-In is certainly the most efficient car in the world; even its internal combustion engine is top-of-the-line. In Japan, we released the N BOX+ and N-ONE mini-vehicles, which offer exceptional environmental performance and set the stage for a long line of Earth Dreams Technology products that will make appearances in the coming years.
●Nishida: For power products, we launched in Europe an environmentally responsible robotic lawnmower called Miimo. It doesn't use gasoline so it emits zero CO2, and it cuts grass into really fine pieces that act as fertilizer, so there's no waste. And, of course, it mows the lawn by itself, creating time that the owner can put toward recreation and other things.
●Yamamoto: As you've all noted, we made steady progress last year in reaching our goal of creating products that offer outstanding environmental performance in all regions of the world. Now let's talk about products that are scheduled for release in fiscal 2014. There's not a lot we can say yet, but tell us in your own words what our customers can look forward to most in the coming year.
●Suzuki: This year we're planning to introduce new environmentally responsible engines to smaller motorcycle models to achieve our goal of having the most fuel-efficient products in each commuter category, a segment that sells around 15 million units globally. We will release mid-size models featuring a new 500-cc two-cylinder engine. These bikes will be fun to ride, of course, but they'll also be very fuel-efficient.
●Nonaka: I think the automobile our customers can look forward to most this year is the new Fit, a hybrid with a one-motor Earth Dreams Technology hybrid system that will be sold in most of the world. We completely revamped the engine and transmission, so it has amazing environmental and driving performance. It can aim at the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class in the world.
●Nishida: In power products, we will release new large electric generators and snowblowers in developed regions such as Europe and Japan. We will introduce PGM-FI electronic fuel-injection systems to power products other than outboard engines for the first time, and also work on improving output and environmental performance. We've marketed a large number of agricultural products in developing countries, so we'll be working on improving the basic performance of these products. For example, a water pump for rice paddies we recently developed incorporates a new high-efficiency pumping technology that increases fuel efficiency by 20%. This technology will certainly have a positive impact on farming in developing countries, so keep an eye out for its release.
Director in charge of Motorcycle R&D Center
●Yamamoto: Honda set a target to reach 39 million units in global sales by the end of 2016, which means we need to reduce CO2 emissions while also growing sales. What approach or perspective are engineers taking as they set out to solve this extremely challenging problem?
●Suzuki: For motorcycles, we're planning to more than double sales in developing countries by 2020. Because gasoline costs account for a large share of user income in these countries, high fuel economy is a major selling point in itself. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to make fuel-efficient products without raising costs. We've gone back to the drawing board and are in the process of thoroughly revising technologies.
Director in charge of Automobile R&D Center
●Nonaka: For automobiles, we're constantly working to make engines and transmissions more efficient, exteriors more aerodynamic, and vehicles lighter. We're developing weight-reduction technologies to drop not just 5 or 10 kg but a full 100 kg and take a big step forward in fuel efficiency. We're also expanding our Earth Dreams Technology hybrid lineup. People should get excited about the NSX, a next-generation supercar that will run like a real sportscar while being powered by a three-motor hybrid system that also has impressive environmental performance. Another goal that's farther down the road is downsizing. Honda is in fact the industry leader in technologies that reduce the size of the car without changing the interior space. And after that we'll develop smaller, supercharged engines. These are some of the ways we hope to keep CO2 emissions from increasing as sales grow.
●Nishida: The average household in Japan consumes 30% of its energy for mobility, 30% for electricity, and the remaining 40% for heating and cooling. Based on this, we are conducting research to increase the fuel efficiency of internal combustion engines and our home cogeneration unit, diversifying fuels, and deploying fuel cell technologies. When testing the Honda Smart Home System, we're striving for efficient energy management by looking at how electricity is stored and used. Our power products business has much to contribute to energy use in daily living, so we feel a sense of responsibility and purpose in helping to achieve maximum efficiency in the life-cycle of energy as it goes from generation to storage to use.
●Yamamoto: As always, we're striving to meet the world's needs by being ahead of our time. I'm sure our customers are looking forward to hearing more about each of these endeavors as they unfold.
●Yamamoto: Before closing, please tell us what kind of product you dream of creating as a product developer.
●Suzuki: The environment is important of course, but it's just one aspect. I don't agree with the practice of watering down the fun of riding a motorcycle to make it more eco-friendly. Having fun is one of the key things motorcycles are for. So I'd like to develop a product that represents the highest level of achievement in both enjoyment and environmental performance, one that makes a strong statement as a whole. That's what I dream of as someone who works with motorcycles.
Director in charge of Power Products R&D Center
●Nonaka: To Honda, the ultimate eco-car is the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), which runs on electricity generated by the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. However, FCEVs are more expensive than EVs and aren't affordable enough yet to attract buyers. The other problem is refueling infrastructure. If we lived in a world where people could make and store hydrogen at home, Honda could produce compact FCEVs and sporty FCEVs and all kinds of other FCEVs; we could even have FCEV racing. I'm really determined to continue research and get FCEVs.in all forms.to our customers.
●Nishida: I want to make products that are environmentally friendly, of course, but I also want to make products that benefit the environment by being used. Honda power products help people raise crops, keep a healthy lawn, travel over the water. I dream of users stopping work for a moment to wipe the sweat off, and glancing up at a deep blue sky. It's meaningful experiences like that that I want to share with customers around the world. It's what inspires my work in product development.
●Yamamoto: Thank you for sharing. Your comments reminded me once again that Honda is a company of individuals, each with their own dreams about what motorcycles and automobiles and power products can become. One of my dreams, if I may, is to push internal combustion engines to the very limit of what's possible. The internal combustion engine has evolved continuously in the 100 years since it was developed, steadily approaching its theoretical limit. I want Honda to be the company to reach that limit.in other words, to develop the best internal combustion engine that humans are capable of conceiving. Another dream is to build a mobility society that doesn't get its energy by drilling into the earth but rather from solar and other renewable forms of energy. Developing fun, inspiring products in that context, I believe, is what will lead us to realizing the joy and freedom of mobility and a sustainable society where people can enjoy life.