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Honda Plug-ins in the Pipeline for 2012

Honda Motor Co. (s HMC) plans to start selling a pair of plug-in vehicles in 2012, including a “mid-size to larger” plug-in hybrid and an all-electric model, the automaker’s president Tkanobu Ito said in a statement on Tuesday.

This is the first time Honda has committed to a firm timeline for rolling out electric vehicles. The company has taken a relatively conservative stance on plug-in vehicles since it stopped selling the electric Honda EV Plus over a decade ago.

The company, whose current lineup includes the Insight and CR-Z “mild” hybrid models, also plans to introduce multiple mild hybrids in Japan within a year — starting with the Fit Hybrid in the fall. (Mild hybrids are gas-electric cars that have a small, high-voltage battery pack and electric motor sharing the load with an internal combustion engine. This allows for a downsized engine, but unlike “full” hybrids such as the Prius, mild hybrids typically don’t have a pure-electric mode.) Ito also pulled back the curtain today on battery plans for the Civic Hybrid, revealing that the next generation model will use a lithium-ion battery from Blue Energy, a year-old joint venture between Honda and GS Yuasa that’s scheduled to start producing the new battery at its plant this year.

For the two-wheeled set, the automaker said it’s still on track to introduce the EV-neo electric scooter in Japan in December, followed next year by a new electric bicycle in China (a market eyed by startups like Mission Motors and KLD Energy Technologies). Eventually Honda aims to sell electric motorcycles in “both advanced and emerging nations.”

In a time when competitors are racing to get plug-in cars like the Nissan (s NSANY) LEAF and Chevy Volt (s GM) on the market in 2010 and 2011, Honda has previously been conservative. Honda’s research and development chief told reporters as recently as May that “We lack confidence in the electric-vehicle business,” adding that while the automaker has been researching EVs, “It’s questionable whether consumers will accept the annoyances of limited driving range and having to spend time charging them.”

Today Ito reiterated those challenges, saying range per charge and recharging time are among the issues that still “need to be addressed.” And although he said Honda still believes that fuel-cell electric vehicles “will provide the ultimate mobility” in the long term, the automaker recognizes that “battery EVs have the potential to create a new market” as a form of mobility with no tailpipe emissions. According to Ito, “Honda will have no future unless we achieve a significant reduction of CO2 emissions.” Over the next decade, he’s hoping to see more widespread adoption of electric cars.

Photos courtesy of Honda

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