Jim Seida
Honda's Home Energy Station is a comprehensive system designed to meet residential energy needs by supplying energy and heat in addition to hydrogen fuel for vehicles.
By Roland Jones Business news editor
msnbc.com
updated 1/9/2006 7:48:41 PM ET 2006-01-10T00:48:41

DETROIT - The 2006 North American International Auto Show, Detroit’s annual celebration of all that’s cool and new in the auto world, is well underway and already some of the biggest names in the business are showing why they’re considered forward-thinking car makers.

Take Honda for example, which on Sunday won both the prestigious North American Car of The Year and Truck of the Year awards for its Civic and Ridgeline brands. The Japanese carmaker is looking further down the road here in Detroit, showing off its future concepts for alternative automotive fueling and energy conservation, and illustrating the rapid development of its fuel cell technology program.

Honda’s FCX concept vehicle was first unveiled four months ago and is on show again here in Detroit. The fuel-cell powered vehicle is possibly one of the most innovative and exciting alternative-fuel cars on display at this year’s auto show.

Recognizing the difficulties fuel cell cars face when it comes to fitting the bulky technology in a car, the sleek FCX sedan aims to deliver more power with less space, using a low-floor fuel cell platform, says Honda spokesperson Juan Avila.

But for all its smooth curves and styling, don’t expect to jump behind the wheel of a FCX hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicle any time soon. It isn’t likely to be widely available for consumers for at least four or five years, says Avila, and is not due to go into production in Japan for another three to four years.

Jim Seida
The Honda FCX concept vehicle delivers more power in less space in a uinque, low-floor fuel cell platform.
One of the many difficulties in operating and powering a fuel cell vehicle is hydrogen is not readily available. But Honda aims to overcome that problem with its Home Energy Station Avila.

The Home Energy Station uses natural gas as its base energy source and is designed to provide energy to run a home (about 5 kilowatts) and also supply a sufficient amount of hydrogen to power a fuel cell vehicle with a range of about 350 miles.

“Now you have the chicken and the egg,” Avila says. “The reason why we haven’t released a lot of fuel cell vehicles to date is the infrastructure isn’t there; this deals with that problem.”

Hybrids galore
Honda isn’t the only carmaker with aspirations to develop cars for the rapidly-growing market for environmentally-friendly vehicles.

Several automakers are rolling out new hybrids in Detroit, including Toyota’s hybrid-powered Camry, and General Motors, which is introducing two models with different types of hybrid power systems.

For its part, Ford has shown off the Reflex -- a sporty concept vehicle with a diesel-electric hybrid system and solar panels it says gets up to 65 miles per gallon. And Subaru has a hybrid concept car.

Hybrid sales are expected to surge in the years ahead, as carmakers find ways to deal with rising gasoline prices, now well above $2 a gallon. But it remains to be seen whether hybrid vehicles (which save energy with a propulsion system that uses a combination of a gas engine and an electric motor) will be the most dominant alternative fuel system for the automotive industry.

When it comes to car safety, Honda is showing off its ASV-3 Advanced Safety Vehicle system, which equips cars and motorbikes with radar, GPS and onboard cameras to sense where other vehicles and objects are on the road and helps drivers avoid road accidents by exchanging positional information between vehicles.

Jim Seida
This Honda ASV-3 scooter uses inter-vehicle communication to ascertain the condition and position of other vehicles on the road, it they're equipped with the same technology.
The technology, which is still in research but which Honda plans to implement in mass production vehicles, offers several new advanced safety technologies, including offering driver steering and braking assistance. And an emergency response system aids in rescue efforts in the event of an accident.

Similar systems are in development in the United States. Motorola recently teamed with Michigan’s Department of Transportation to build and test a roadside network that can reduce traffic accidents and road congestion through vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communication systems that alert drivers to potential collisions, upcoming road works, bad weather or congestion. The partnership is part of the U.S. government's Vehicle Infrastructure Integration initiative, which is looking into the feasibility of deploying a communications system to improve the safety and efficiency of the nation's road system.

Over the last five years, the number of fatalities on U.S. roads from automobile accidents has held relatively steady at about 40,000 each year, Callaway said, citing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures. And these deaths continue to have a staggering impact on the U.S. economy, costing some $230 billion a year, or about $820 per person according to the NHTSA.

At Detroit, Honda also introduced the all-new 2007 Honda Fit this week -- a subcompact 5-door hatchback that is one of Honda’s hottest-selling cars in Asia and Europe and is set to go on sale in the U.S. in April and offers an impressive fuel economy of  33/38 miles per gallon.

The Fit will also include Honda’s iPod Music Link as a standard accessory, which allows iPod users to control the device through the vehicle’s audio unit. Other car makers are in Detroit jumping on the iPod bandwagon including Chrysler, which said it will include iPod links as standard in most of its 2006 vehicles.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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