Honda CEO Says Solid-State Batteries Are Crucial for Electric Type R Cars
More powerful, lighter, and able to run with simplified cooling systems, these advanced batteries may be the key to the Type R’s future.
Our full review of the 2023 Honda Civic Type R is coming soon, as we're finally getting out long-awaited shot at a proper test later this month. Until then, you can enjoy this tiny taste of Honda's latest hot hatch as Formula 1 driver Sergio Perez recently shuttled staff writer Chris Rosales around the track before letting him take the wheel. However, as it's the case with most gasoline-powered performance vehicles nowadays, one can't help but wonder if this will be the Type R's last hurrah before switching to battery power for good. During a recent interview with Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe and Managing Officer Shinji Aoyama in Tokyo, it was made clear that the recipe to replicate the soul of Type R in electric form isn't ready just yet.
When I asked Honda's two top executives how far battery technology was from recreating the lightweight, fun-to-drive, and affordable nature of Type R cars, both pointed directly at solid-state batteries.
"The solid-state battery will make the weight lighter," Aoyama told The Drive. "As far as how soon we can do that? It's difficult to respond." Mibe then chimed in, explaining the crucial role this battery tech will play. "For example, a characteristic of solid-state batteries is that they don't easily overheat, meaning that the cooling systems for these [performance] electric vehicles can be simplified in terms of size and weight," said Mibe
"Compared to current EV batteries, this would help reduce the weight and would be effective for Type R and motorcycle applications as well. In the future, solid-state batteries will be the center for electric cars and motorcycles that have soul," added the CEO.
While not claiming that an electric Type R won't happen without solid-state batteries, Mibe and Ayoyama sound confident that said battery technology would allow these cars to remain as true as possible to their original characters. If battery size and weight can be greatly reduced, it leaves price as the hurdle to clear before mastering the Type R sauce. And that, too, is currently in the works.
Honda is launching a pilot production line in Spring 2024 to the tune of 43 billion yen (approx. $300 million), which will focus purely on the development and mass production of solid-state batteries. The project will take place in Japan at the automaker's Sakura research facility, and will be the first great exercise at scaling up the production of what is so far an extremely complex component. These will reportedly be proprietary batteries, too, and won't be initially shared with other automakers. Pricing for these batteries is expected to drop as manufacturing ramps up.
A Type R, first and foremost, is known for its soul, per se. That ragged, feisty, angry economy-car-that-could that legions of fans have come to love. Can an electric car have soul? That's the question I asked Aoyama, who is in charge of the company's electrification strategy. He quickly responded, "yes, of course." His boss, meanwhile, offered a slightly longer explanation that circumvented a yes or no answer, but shared that "it won't be a Honda or Acura product if it is not fun to drive."
"Right now we are developing a lot of different technologies, and we are looking into what direction would help us develop electric cars with soul," Mibe told The Drive. "Of course, it will take some time until this direction is clear, and then we will need some time to develop these technologies. For example, if we want to come up with a sports car or sporty car, we may combine elements from various technologies, like from a family car or a different application [Civic Type R is still a four-door hatchback, after all), and this will give us [well-rounded] exciting electric vehicles with soul. It won't be a Honda or Acura product if it is not fun to drive."
The electrification of halo vehicles can also pose yet another problem to OEMs, given that it can be difficult to make an electric Honda feel like a Type R, just like Mercedes-Benz has had to do with the electric AMGs.
"At this stage in the EV era, it's not easy right now to differentiate a battery and e-axle product [from another]. A high voltage, high power battery combined with an innovating e-axle may provide Honda with exciting products—amazing products in the future," said Aoyama.
"Honda's selling points have been engines and manual transmissions, but from now on, we would like to be able to come up with technology that gives it that Honda fun-to-drive aspect in the age of electrification," said Mibe. "We actually do have a test vehicle already in this segment, that we believe is fun to drive and can compare to a six-speed manual transmission vehicle."
The executives did not reveal what this fun-to-drive electric prototype vehicle was, but we do know that an electric Acura ZDX Type S is already confirmed to be in the works.
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