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Honda CR-Z

Honda CR-Z Hybrid

Americans don’t want sporty hybrids. That was the thinking of Honda’s American president during the development of the new CR-Z hybrid, said Norio Tomobe, chief engineer on the project. In an interview with Automotive News (via AutoWeek), Mr. Tomobe described his interaction with Tetsuo Imamura, president of American Honda:

“He kept saying they don’t need a hybrid,” recalled Mr. Tomobe.

“In the American market, people equate hybrids with the Prius,” he said of Mr. Iwamura’s cool response. “If the hybrid is sporty, it’s going to confuse the customers and dealers.”

The CR-Z’s fate was put before Takanobu Ito, now president of Honda Motor but then head of r.&d. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about the States, just keep developing it,’” Mr. Tomobe said.

While driving early prototypes, Mr. Iwamura relentlessly derided the car, Mr. Tomobe said. But when he got behind the wheel of the final version, his reaction changed.

Suddenly, the project was a go.

Appearance aside, the CR-Z, which goes on sale in the United States this summer, plays up the sporty card. Its name nods to one of Honda’s early sport coupes, the CRX. The American version of the CR-Z will seat only two. It will be powered by a hybrid system that uses a 1.5-liter gas engine and will come with the option of a 6-speed manual transmission. The CR-Z will also have 16 valves — versus eight in the Honda Insight — to give the CR-Z more power in the higher r.p.m.’s.

But even with all the effort to bump up the car’s performance cred, the CR-Z is still geared toward fuel economy more than canyon carving. Honda has yet to disclose acceleration and top speed numbers, but the car’s 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque don’t inspire one to race for pinks.

Which leads us to the other bit of interesting news from the Automotive News story — the prospect of a Type R racing version of the car.

“If that appeals to people and contributes to Honda’s sporty image, we need to consider all options,” Mr. Tomobe said.

He admitted, however, that increasing the power-to-weight ratio and top speed would run counter to the CR-Z’s green image. He said, “The CR-Z is supposed to be an intelligent sports car.”

With CR-Z, Honda Will Find Out if U.S. Is Ready for a Sporty Hybrid

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