It all comes down to how the EV market will play out.
It could be argued that Dieselgate was a blessing in disguise for Volkswagen. Sure, it paid a huge price (both financially and its reputation), but the automaker still very much exists and has since committed itself to an electrified future. By 2029, it intends to launch 75 pure EVs and another 60 hybrids. Its electric offensive, already underway, will also see EVs built at its US plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Battery production will also be localized. Even by 2023, VW plans to invest some $30 billion in EVs. In other words, it's going on all-in. Honda, however, sees the electrification landscape a bit differently.
Speaking with Automotive News Europe, Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo made an interesting prediction: hybrids will be more popular than EVs. This is pretty much the opposite of VW's thinking but Hachigo makes some excellent arguments. "I believe hybrid vehicles will play a crucial role.
"The objective is not electrification, per se, but improving fuel efficiency," he said. "And we believe hybrid vehicles are the way to abide by different environmental regulations." He makes a good point. While battery-powered EV sales have increased yearly, they still make up a very small overall percentage of total vehicle sales in the world's biggest car markets, specifically North America. Hachigo, therefore, remains unconvinced of the EV hype, despite everything Tesla and now VW promotes.
"Are there really customers who truly want [EVs]? I'm not so sure because there are lots of issues regarding infrastructure and hardware," he added. "I do not believe there will be a dramatic increase in demand for battery vehicles, and I believe this situation is true globally. There are different regulations in different countries, and we have to abide by them. So it's a must to continue R&D. But I don't believe it will become mainstream anytime soon."
Yes, Honda has been a bit slow to the EV market; it sells only one EV in the US, the Clarity EV, and it's not available nationwide. However, it offers several hybrids and plug-in hybrids, among them the Insight and CR-V Hybrid. Basically, Honda is taking a far more conservative approach to pure electric vehicles than VW. Is this the risky choice, or the other way around?
Honda has always been a far less conservative automaker than its main Japanese rival, Toyota. Founder Soichiro Honda was something of a renegade during his time and this mentality still exists within the company. But Honda is also very pragmatic, further evidenced by Hachigo's belief that not everyone will switch to EVs in the near future. A global automaker shouldn't put all of its eggs in one basket.