Honda announces plug-in hybrid & electric car plans for the 2012 model year

Honda isn’t exactly the first Japanese car company that comes to mind when thinking about hybrids. Toyota, thanks to its Prius and hybrid Lexus line-up, won the general populus a few years back, but Honda is set to make another run with the third generation of Honda Civic Hybrids along with a new line of electric vehicles.

These new lines should start hitting streets in both Japan and the US sometime next year for the 2012 model year. This comes on top of the current plans to introduce a hybrid version of the B-segment Honda Fit later this year. Details about the up-coming electric car wasn’t announced, but a few tantalizing specs concerning the next-gen Honda Civic Hybrid leaked a few weeks back and seem to confirm today’s report. Can we say Prius-killer? Yup.

The biggest advantage the upcoming Civic will have over the Prius is lithium-ion batteries, which have a dramatically better power-to-weight ratio than the Nickel-metal hydride packs currently used in all of Honda’s and Toyota’s hybrids. This is the same sort of battery technology used in the Tesla Roadster and Chevy Volt. Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system would then assist a 1.5-liter gasoline engine paired to CVT transmission or six-speed gearbox.

The same lithium-ion-powered IMA platform will eventually work its way into Acura vehicles as well, which will likely go head to head against the already-popular Lexus hybrids.

Honda no doubt wants to be known as a major player in the alternative energy car market and are going at it a slightly different way than other car companies. While Toyota is aiming at the top with the up-scale Prius and Lexus line, Honda is starting downmarket with the low-cost Fit, Insight, and the Civic. [Update: Add the CR-Z sports coupe to that list, too] After all, inexpensive cars is where Honda started so it’s rather fitting that the next chapter in its history begins the same way.