Honda has become the first major Japanese automaker to set an official date for phasing out sales of fossil-powered vehicles. New CEO Toshihiro Mibe has announced that his company hopes to go all-electric by 2040.
Mibe’s announcement confirms a shift that Honda has been hinting at for some months. In 2020, the company partnered with GM to develop two new EVs based on GM’s Ultium batteries. Honda has already announced plans to sell only electrified vehicles in Europe by 2022, and to go all-electric in North America by 2040.
That said, it’s hard to deny that Japan has fallen behind the world’s other major automaking regions—brands hailing from Europe, the US, China and Korea have been issuing a steady stream of announcements of new electric models and investments in battery plants. Meanwhile, Honda and Toyota continue to piddle around with fuel cells, and Nissan’s LEAF is overdue for a major upgrade.
The backward-looking ethos of Japan’s automakers was reflected in some of the comments from the media on Honda’s announcement. “It’s a very bold target,” said Yachiyo Tanaka, an analyst at automotive research company Fourin. “Honda has pledged to pull ahead of other automakers by introducing the latest technologies.”
Most EV advocates would probably call Honda’s 2040 target timid, and might also note that Mibe’s statement did not include any announcements of new models or new investment. However, it’s a step in the right direction, and a lot more encouraging that what we’ve been hearing from Toyota, which has run ads ridiculing EVs and touting perpetual-motion machines (one Lexus ad campaign was banned by Norway’s consumer protection bureau). Toyota’s CEO recently denounced the Japanese government’s proposal for a mid-2030s fossil-fuel phase-out, and delivered an anti-EV tirade that was riddled with falsehoods. (A more recent announcement of a new line of EVs indicates that the apostate automaker may have seen the electric light.)
According to Bloomberg, some Honda-watchers wonder whether the 2040 goal is realistic. However, one Honda engineer praised CEO Mibe for laying out a clear strategy, and said that the general feeling at the company is positive. Mibe himself is an engineer by training, and has been with Honda for 34 years.
Former Honda engineer Tomiji Sugimoto believes that the company’s success in the new electric world will depend on “how fast we can make the EV business profitable. Companies that do it fast will survive.”