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HONDA Australia, potentially one of the biggest alternative-fuel players in this country, has declared it will take a “cautious” approach to non-petrol cars for the immediate future.

Managing director Stephen Collins said alternative-fuel vehicles, such as hybrids and electric vehicles, had poor acceptance in Australia and limited support from the federal government.

“Hybrids, for example, still represent less than one per cent of the total market,” he said.

“There is still low underlying consumer demand for hybrids and there’s still no prospect of incentives from the government. So, our approach to introducing these to the local market is one of caution.”

Mr Collins said other markets used government incentives as a major tool in stimulating sales of these types of vehicles.

“Clearly, these types of vehicles are the future. It’s just a question of what the horizon is,” he said.

“Three or four years ago we had a whole line up of hybrids – Jazz, Civic, Insight, City, CR-Z and Accord – in which we invested a lot of money.

“On reflection, we didn’t get a lot of traction with them. We’ll be in that space (in the future), but we’re now just taking a cautious approach.”

2013 Honda Civic Hybrid

Honda no longer offers a hybrid and has also taken diesels off the market.

“We have no current plans for a diesel engine line-up,” Mr Collins said.

“Two reasons: The diesel market is declining and, secondly, the business case for a cost-effective diesel is not great.

“So, we will stick to core models. The CR-V is a good example because we stick to a simple formula and we have strong sales as a result.

“If we can’t position it correctly, it won’t work. We have the odd customer request for a diesel, but it’s comparatively rare.

“The current generation of petrol engines are very good. I think over time diesel will continue to diminish and, to be honest, it is not one of our core strengths.

“We’ve dabbled with diesel before and haven’t done so great, so I think we’ll stick with the petrol range.”

Mr Collins said Honda Australia was “in talks” with the recently-established Hydrogen Mobility Australia (HMA) group, formed by fuel producers, retailers, services and car-makers Toyota and Hyundai.

2013 Honda Jazz Hybrid

“We haven’t joined the group, but we have kept the dialogue open,” he said.

“We will keep the lines of communication open, and we have sent some of our people to Toyota to see the hydrogen refuelling station – so we’re talking, but we’re not part of the formal group.”

Mr Collins said that because there are no immediate plans for Honda’s hydrogen fuel-cell production car, the Clarity, to come to Australia, he saw no immediate need to become involved with HMA.

“We will take a back seat at the moment, and that may change in the future.

“If Clarity was around the corner, then we’d be right there. If that changes we will be actively part of that.

“I think Clarity is the only hydrogen car Honda is working on. I’m not sure, but that’s the information I have.”

Mr Collins said a new EV and/or the introduction of Clarity to the Australian market, would be dependent on the results of the current discussions by the federal government on the future of Australia’s CO2 emissions.

The government’s Climate Change Authority has proposed an emissions target of 105 grams per kilometre of carbon-dioxide by 2025 and has invited industry to make submissions. The average vehicle fleet in Australia now has a CO2 rating of 192g/km CO2.

Once a decision has been made, the targets would be rolled out incrementally.

“Until that is sorted out there is uncertainty and where there is uncertainty, it’s not a perfect time to be making decisions on things like making and selling alternative-fuel vehicles.”

By Neil Dowling

Honda Clarity