|A Corporate Project Involving Scores of People
It was soon apparent, though, that several companies in Japan and overseas had already commercialized the concept of an electric vehicle. For this, the staff at Honda had the first and second oil crises to thank. In fact, Honda was the last to join the race. Accordingly, the members argued that, as Araki put it:
Other companies that had worked for so long with electric vehicles would probably continue developments based on what they already had accomplished. However, we had to make use of the very best cutting-edge technology to begin our development.
The truth in such a statement was evidenced by the fact that Japan was rich in automotive and electronics technologies. It was a great source of pride for the Japanese, and the envy of nations the world over.
Electric operation was at the time only associated with golf carts and amusement park rides. When compared to the amount of energy displaced by gasoline combustion, the amount of energy displacement from a battery was lower by two digits. Since it took many hours to recharge a battery, it was very inconvenient to use such a system in most applications. To make matters worse, no team member at the R&D Center had any experience in EV-related technology. Therefore, it would be impossible to discuss its technology with manufacturers of various components.
The motor and battery system remained the biggest components in an electric car. However, the motor was entirely different from that found in a conventional car. At the time, there was no motor compact enough yet high enough in output or efficiency to be loaded into an electric vehicle.
The battery type was another question, since the only type available for use as the car's chief energy source was the lead-acid unit. Upon hearing a spokesman from a manufacturer of electric vehicles say that at least four years were needed to develop a new, next-generation battery, the project members were shocked. They were discovering the truth in their assumption about development in the electrochemistry field: everything would require a great deal of time.
"However, we have to start somewhere," they thought, as they worked to assemble an electric vehicle from the skeleton of a CR-X. The vehicle was made lighter by using aluminum for the body and acrylic instead of glass. This was the birth of EV "number one."
A meeting of top management was held at Honda R&D in October 1990 regarding Honda's entire range of motorcycles, automobiles, and power products. It was a meeting to debate the direction that R&D should take for the last decade of the 20th century. Information on several themes was gathered and debated, including, of course, those relating to electric vehicles, for which a project had been started two years earlier. Takefumi Hiramatsu, the Research Administrative Director (RAD) of a development project for the commercialization of electric vehicles, was in attendance at the meeting. "It was at that meeting that I was again convinced to continue the full-scale development of electric vehicles," he recalled.
The meeting had also impressed upon Hiramatsu that several outside factors were enhancing the significance of development in electric vehicles. There was, for example, a move in the U.S. toward more stringent enforcement of emissions controls. Concern had grown during the latter half of the 1980s concerning the effectiveness of the 1970 Clean Air Act instituted in late December 1970. The public mood had shifted toward revising the Clean Air Act, including the addition of regulations adopted in the state of California by CARB (California Air Resources Board). Moreover, beginning in the 1990s, the U.S. began importing more oil than it produced. Thus, the movement toward new regulations was made from the standpoint of national defense, as well as for reasons of economics.
"These were signs of a future I saw spreading throughout the world", recalled Hiramatsu. "Therefore, in keeping with the big changes in social values, I felt that in addition to making technical improvements I wanted to develop something that would replace the technology that had been the very heart of Honda."
The ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) (Note*1) regulation was issued in November 1990 in the U.S. as a law that would encompass the CARB regulations established two months earlier. It was to take effect in 1998. In the face of these developments in mind, early in 1991 Honda made the development of electric vehicles a major strategy. In order to begin full-scale development, some 100 employees whose collective expertise covered a variety of areas, gathered from Honda R&D's Wako Center, Tochigi Center, HGA and what was then the Asaka Kita Center. This was to be their project.
Note: 1* ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) Regulatory Act A law requiring automakers with sales in California to sell a set number of electric vehicles (Initially 2 percent of the total number of car sales.)
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