June 15, 2015 / 4:50 PM / 4 years ago

Honda to stop making natural gas car, to rely more on fuel cells

DETROIT, June 15 (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co will introduce a new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in 2016 and stop production of its natural gas Civic, the U.S. sales head of its American Honda auto division said on Monday.

John Mendel, speaking with reporters in Detroit, said the company had sold about 16,000 natural gas-fueled Civic compact cars since 1998 in a limited sales area of the United States. He said the falling price of gasoline relative to natural gas helped lead Honda to deciding to drop the car.

Mendel also announced the end of production of the Accord plug-in hybrid, to be replaced by another plug-in hybrid before 2018.

The fuel cell vehicle will be a “dedicated” model but Mendel did not disclose its name. Honda showed a concept of the fuel cell car at the Detroit auto show in January.

Mendel said Honda is shifting its focus on electric vehicles, including hybrids, and in doing so will introduce a new unnamed plug-in hybrid vehicle and a fully electric battery-powered vehicle by 2018.

A Honda spokesman would not say whether the three new vehicles will share a platform on which the cars are built.

Honda will also stop selling the Civic hybrid version when the Civic’s new model year begins with the primary gasoline version this fall, Mendel said.

He said Honda was serious about making the natural gas car work, but that market dynamics and consumer preference have shifted.

Mendel said any inconvenience for customers of alternative fuel vehicles, such as not being able to find a refueling station, will put them off. But he added that he is more confident of a robust hydrogen fueling station network than he was for natural gas stations, in large part because he expects more government help in establishing a hydrogen refueling network.

Honda did not say where its hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be sold, but said the infrastructure is expected to be developed first in California. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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