The Honda CR-Z hybrid might be the least anticipated gas-electric car heading to the market. Honda says that the CR-Z combines fun, small and efficient in a sporty package. Critics say the price—anticipated at around $20,000—is too much for a two-seater that lacks the size and practicality of the more affordable Honda Fit. They say the CR-Z’s 122 horsepower make it anything but sporty. And worst of all, the fuel economy of such a small hybrid should be far more than its average of about 37 mpg.
But could the cool design and sporty handling make the CR-Z a sleeper success? That’s apparently what’s happening in Japan. After the first month on the market in Japan, Honda received more than 10,000 orders. That’s 10 times the pace of its monthly sales target. Honda said it expects to sell 40,000 to 50,000 of the CR-Z a year worldwide, with sales scheduled to start in North America and Europe this summer. (Keep in mind that the Honda Insight got off to fast start when it debuted in Japan last year, only to fall short soon after. In the US, the Insight never developed into the “Prius-killer” that Honda had hoped for. )
Fun FactorsThe CR-Z borrows much of the hybrid system from the Honda Insight—but its engine has 16 valves instead of the Insight's eight. This is to help increase power at higher rpm and improve efficiency at lower speeds. The Honda CR-Z’s 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine—compared to the Insight’s 1.3—is also mated to a six-speed manual gearbox—making it the only hybrid on the market available with a manual transmission. Drivers of the CVT version, when selecting “sporty" mode can simulate stepped shifting manually by flipping paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The "normal" and "economy" modes are designed for greater efficiency.
The wedge design features an oversized front grille with small openings on each side of the front panel. The CR-Z clearly borrows its overall shape from the Honda CRX sports car, a version of the Civic that was produced from 1984 to 1991.
According to some reports, Honda is already considering adding battery storage and making the motor and inverter smaller and lighter to deliver better performance.
A Sports Car Without Maximum SpeedDespite the advanced criticism, Norio Tomobe, chief engineer of car, said that applying a hybrid system to the CR-Z gives the car a “wow factor.” According to Automotive News, the engineer had to convince executives at American Honda Motor that US drivers would want a sporty-looking hybrid. US executives believed consumers would be confused by a sporty two-seat hybrid. But Takanobu Ito, now president of Honda Motor, told Tomobe to move forward. The CR-Z hits American shores in mid-2010.
"I'm satisfied," Tomobe told Automotive News. "This is what the future of sports cars will be for Honda. We are not pursuing absolute maximum speed. What we aim for is a car that is exhilarating to drive." Regardless of how long-term sales pan out in Japan and other markets, the CR-Z represents a genuine attempt at finding a new market for hybrids. Honda said that 90 percent of those first-month buyers of the CR-Z in Japan were men, mostly in their 30s and 40s. It might not be a perfect execution of its idea, but maybe Honda is on to something.
source : http://www.hybridcars.com/vehicle/honda-cr-z.html