Honda Motor Co. Ltd. kicks off sales of its all-new, gasoline/electric hybrid-powered 2003 Civic, and the company isn't about to relinquish its burgeoning lead in the development of hybrid-powered passenger vehicles.

“We view hybrids as an investment in the future that will soon pay dividends, we believe,” says Peter Rech, manager of product planning for Honda division. That's not to say that Honda will make money on its new Civic Hybrid. In such low volumes, hybrids have been losing money for Honda and Toyota Motor Corp. With the new Civic Hybrid, a Honda insider says only that the profit picture has improved.

The Civic Hybrid (see WAW — March '02, p.75) uses an advanced 1.3L 4-cyl. gasoline engine coupled with a 13-hp electric motor to achieve 47 mpg city and 51 mpg highway (5L/100 km and 4.6L/100 km) with a 5-speed manual transmission and 48 mpg/48 mpg (4.9L/100 km) with its optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). That's about 40% better mileage than an equivalent standard Civic powered by Honda's conventional 1.7L SOHC I-4.

Recent drives demonstrate that in all-out acceleration and around-town “squirt,” the Civic Hybrid performs better than the standard 1.7L Civic — at least with the manual transmission. We were less impressed with the Civic Hybrid when shackled with the thrummy CVT.

The company expects about 2,000 monthly takers for the new Civic Hybrid. Honda's 2-seat Insight, which sold 5,000 units in its first full year, was the U.S.'s first-ever production hybrid-powered passenger car. Rumors persist that Honda might be first to introduce a hybrid truck/SUV: Honda's hybrid-drive CR-V (based on Civic platform) could beat Ford Motor Co.'s planned introduction of its hybrid-powered Escape mini-ute in late '03.