DETROIT – Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s proprietary full-hybrid system is due sooner instead of later and will complement rather than replace the auto maker's existing mild-hybrid technology, CEO Takanobu Ito tells select media today. "We are going to keep IMA (Integrated Management Assist) for the Civic-type of vehicles because we believe IMA will be the best type of system" for smaller vehicles, Ito says during a roundtable interview at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit today.

The Civic hybrid sedan’s IMA system cannot propel a vehicle on electricity alone, as can a full-hybrid system. "In terms of full hybrid, the Accord-type of vehicles or larger require two motors, so full hybrid will be the system for that type of vehicle,” he says.

Noting the need to bring to market vehicles that are fuel efficient without sacrificing performance, Ito says Honda also is looking at direct injection as another means to achieve this goal. "Direct injection is one of the choices we can make; it's a possibility."

Many auto makers have implemented DI as a way to improve the fuel economy and performance of their engines, including General Motors Corp., Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus brand.

Ito says he can't be specific on the timing for a Honda electric vehicle, saying the challenge is to make a car that is light enough so as not to affect fuel economy, a struggle considering how much weight batteries can add. However, he does say Honda's EV will be a city commuter car.

The auto maker presently is conducting market research on an EV, but Ito says the vehicle's arrival is "not so soon."

Japanese rival Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. is launching its Leaf EV in select markets, including the U.S., later this year.

Ito says Honda's future EV likely would be sold in the U.S. due to California's zero-emission vehicle mandates.

While the auto maker has a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, that meets ZEV standards, the introduction of hydrogen-refueling stations is not fast enough to please Honda, so an EV is being pursued as well.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com