Honda Owners Shocked by Civic Hybrid's Browned-Out BatteriesBy Bill Visnic August 16, 2010
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. is following-up a big recall last week for faulty ignition interlocks with another quality hit that may be more potentially damaging to the automaker's dependability reputation: it appears thousands of Honda's Civic Hybrids may be experiencing accelerated deterioration of the car's crucial and expensive nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
Edmunds.com's Green Car Advisor confirmed over the weekend that Honda is offering a software upgrade to owners of 2006-2008 Civic Hybrids that the company said will address numerous recent reports of markedly deteriorating battery performance. In the Civic Hybrid, the nickel-metal hydride batteries power a small electric motor situated between the engine and transmission that augments engine power. The motor also reverses polarity when the car is decelerating to turn kinetic energy into electrical energy that recharges the batteries.
Honda is mailing letters to more than 100,000 Civic Hybrid owners acknowledging that their cars' batteries could deteriorate and fail prematurely and that the automaker has developed a software fix to correct the problem. Civic Hybrids from the 2009 model year onward apparently already employ the software Honda plans to use to update the older Civic Hybrid models.
And while members of Edmunds.com's CarSpace forum have been talking about the issue for some time, The Los Angeles Times reported the California Air Resources Board has spoken with company officials about the potential for the failing batteries to affect the Civic Hybrid's rated fuel economy and emissions. The Civic Hybrid earns CARB's Advanced Technology - Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle emissions rating that requires emissions to be at least 90-percent less than the average vehicle, there are zero evaporative emissions and emissions-related components are warranted for 150,000 miles.
In compliance with the AT-PZEV rating, the Civic Hybrid's battery pack is warranted for 10 years/150,000 miles in California and the 13 other states (as well as Washington, D.C.) that have adopted CARB emissions standards. In the remaining states, the battery pack warranty is 8 years/80,000 miles.
A Honda spokesperson told Edmunds GCA the company is confident the new software will assure the affected Civic Hybrids are in compliance with CARB's standards for the AT-PZEV rating.
But owners have been talking in chat forums for some time about the situation, which in many ways sounds similar to how reluctance by Toyota Motor Corp. to deal with consumer complaints eventually led to recalls of millions of vehicles for potentially sticking accelerator pedals and improperly installed floormats.
Some consumers have said they reported the problem but got the "runaround" from Honda dealers and higher-ups.
Owners React - Is Honda Listening?
Honda needs to address the situation in an assuring and confident way, as consumer trust about the performance and longevity of batteries will be a key factor in the acceptance of coming new-technology vehicles with increasing reliance on battery power. General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s Leaf both will be launched near the end of the year and both rely on large battery packs - although the chemistry is more-advanced lithium-ion - to provide extensive electric-only driving range.
Trouble with the Civic Hybrid's batteries could cast a cloud the technology that might increase consumers' doubts about both the performance of battery-electric vehicles and the cost of replacing expensive battery packs. Lithium-ion batteries are considerably more expensive than the lower-capacity nickel-metal hydride batteries of the Civic Hybrid, but both GM and Nissan are warranting the Volt and Leaf battery packs for eight years/100,000 miles.
Owners on the Edmunds CarSpace forum most frequently reported problems of the batteries' inability to maintain charge, loss of power while driving and degraded fuel economy.
Honda told GCA that is some cases, the company is replacing the entire battery pack, while a CARB official said that Honda has replaced the battery packs in more than 4 percent of 2006-2008 Civic Hybrids, the threshold that is supposed to require notification to CARB.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman told the LA Times, meanwhile, that while the agency had no reports of accidents attributed to Civic Hybrid battery problems, it has fielded several complaints and has contacted Honda about the situation.
Photo by Honda
The Honda Civic Hybrid have battery problems.