Should Honda Build a Hybrid Ridgeline?

2017_Ridgeline_136[5] II

By Tim Esterdahl

For years now, automakers have been trying to solve the puzzle of a hybrid pickup truck with little success. Hybrid pickups have been expensive to purchase compared to non-hybrid models, and they lacked a measurable gain in fuel economy, which caused consumers to pass on them. But what about a nontraditional pickup truck? Could a Honda Ridgeline equipped with an in-house hybrid system be a success?

At first glance, a hybrid pickup doesn't make a lot of sense for traditional pickup buyers. For starters, hybrid powertrains use an electric battery pack and a small-displacement engine, which get depleted quickly under load when towing or hauling. And, as mentioned, they typically cost more than traditional gasoline powertrains and offer only marginal improvements in fuel economy.

Here's an example: Chevrolet offered a mild-hybrid system in the 2016 Silverado 1500 in California via its eAssist technology. This truck improved city/combined fuel economy by 2 and 1 mpg, respectively; the option cost an extra $500 without sacrificing any of the truck's capability. Sure, this sounded good, but Chevy expected this to be a low-volume experiment since it built only about 500; it has since expanded its plans to offer model-year 2017 Silverado 1500s with eAssist across the U.S., however. Earlier this year Ford announced it will offer a hybrid version of the F-150, promising it will be available within five years. We'll be watching this development.

A Different Truckmaker

Honda is not like other truckmakers. The Ridgeline stands out among its peers as being, to put it bluntly, the "non-macho" version of a pickup. It doesn't brag endlessly about towing, hauling or torque numbers. Instead, it offers the versatility of a pickup bed — rated to carry 1,584 pounds (an RT all-wheel drive) and tow a 5,0000-pound trailer (AWD) — with the smooth ride of an SUV packaged with features such as a dual-action tailgate, in-bed audio, a multi-terrain system and hidden bed storage. The Ridgeline gets decent fuel economy with its front-wheel-drive models, returning an EPA-estimated 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined when equipped with the 3.5-liter V-6 engine.

This got us thinking ... could this kind of pickup offer a true hybrid powertrain and be the first dual-powertrain success in the mid-size pickup class? In other words, are consumer expectations for the Ridgeline different enough that a hybrid version could become a sales success?

2018 03_Engine___Transmission[12] II

We think this could be a good strategy since Honda already has the powertrain available. Acura, Honda's luxury brand, introduced a hybrid powertrain into its SUV lineup in the form of the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid. It is the brand's first hybrid SUV; the powertrain was developed for the RLX sedan and used in the NSX supercar as well. It just makes sense that with this hybrid powertain's use in a sedan, supercar and SUV, Honda should be able to use it in the Ridgeline at a reasonable cost.

The MDX Sport Hybrid powertrain — available in AWD only — returns 31 horsepower more than the MDX V-6 gasoline version and improves the fuel economy to 26/27/27 mpg city/highway/combined. That's an increase of 8 mpg city, 1 mpg highway and 6 mpg combined over the AWD gasoline engine. This improvement comes with a $3,500 surcharge over the gasoline MDX with FWD. But we see the same cost differences between gasoline and diesel pickups. The Chevrolet Colorado serves as a case in point: Moving from the gas V-6 to the inline-four-cylinder diesel costs almost an additional $3,500. Imagine this new more powerful and efficient powertrain in the Ridgeline, which has a curb weight almost identical to the MDX.

Using the fuel-economy increases for the MDX Hybrid, a hybrid Ridgeline could easily deliver 311 horsepower (up from 280) and have an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 27/27/28 mpg city/highway/combined.

If the MDX Hybrid improvements held true for a Ridgeline hybrid, it possibly could beat the current mid-size fuel-economy champ, the Chevrolet Colorado with the turbo-diesel 2.8-liter engine. In extended- or crew-cab models equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission, the Colorado returns 22/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined for roughly the same $3,500 difference between a FWD gas and AWD hybrid MDX.

2018 07_IPU__Battery_[6] II

Is It Feasible?

During a recent pickup event, a top-level Honda engineer said Honda could add the engine to the Ridgeline with relatively little investment in engineering. Since the hybrid is already used in-house by a similarly sized vehicle with an almost identical engine bay, the front of the pickup would not have to undergo a substantial change. Of course, placement of the hybrid system's battery pack and electric motor poses a challenge.

Be that as it may, a hybrid Ridgeline could be a perfect fit for Honda as it continues to expand its brand to reach new-truck owners. By offering a compact hybrid pickup, Honda could capture a market niche in which other truckmakers have failed to succeed.

Since Honda's core products are cars and SUVs, a hybrid Ridgeline wouldn't have to be a big seller for the company to be considered a true success. And it might just force other truckmakers to rethink their current or future hybrid pickup plans.

Editor's note: This story was updated Aug. 17, 2017, to reflect that Chevrolet Silverado 1500s with eAssist are sold in all 50 U.S. states.

Manufacturer images

2017_Acura_MDX_Sport_Hybrid_064[10] II

2017_Acura_MDX_Sport_Hybrid_063[6] II

2018_Ridgeline_144[5] II

16Ridgeline_148 II

01 Structure - Front 3.4 II

 

Comments

@Trucker

Your apparent understanding of commodity markets is based on an preliminary discussion of supply and demand.

There's more to it, but for the purpose of this discussion about Honda's failure to generate excitement for its Ridgeline pickup, their board of directors cannot be happy about 2 failed attempts to crack an enormous North American markets for pickups.

You can also rest assured that the current US dominance in energy markets minimizes the impact of geo-political events to a much greater extent than it would if we were like Japan or Germany, countries almost entirely reliant upon OPEC for their energy security.

I was never a fan of the whole drive for so called energy independence, but the US has managed to achieve it nonetheless.

Agree we are in much better shape energy than Europe. Both Germany and Great Britain have passed laws to eliminate both gas and diesel powered vehicles and go all electric by 2040 and 2030 respectively. At the same time both have mandates to close coal and nuclear power plants. There is only so much power that can be generated from solar and wind and when you add in the extra demand to recharge battery powered vehicles then you have more stress on the power grid. Phasing out coal power over a period of time I can understand but when you take away nuclear power and natural gas then how can you sustain a power grid especially when demand increases due to the increase in electric vehicles.

As for geopolitical we have not been able to isolate ourselves from what happens in the Middle East, North Korea, and the rest of the World. Political instability causes a rise in commodity prices such as oil because of uncertainty. The commodity market prices are not just determined on supply and demand but on geopolitical, economic, and domestic events and the uncertainty of what will happen. The US has plenty of oil but a crisis in the Middle East or with North Korea could cause a spike in commodity prices. Also refinery capacity effects prices at the pump because even if the US has an abundance of oil it needs to be refined and the refinery capacity has been reduced as old refineries have been closed and not replaced. The US has not build a new refinery since the mid-70s. Shut down a few refineries for maintenance or a hurricane and prices go up.

As for Honda their board is not that concerned about the Ridgeline because it was never intended to sell at record levels. Honda can always produce more Pilots if Ridgeline sales completely tank and Honda has the flexibility to discontinue the Ridgeline at anytime especially since it is produced in the same plant as the Pilot and shares the same platform and many of the same parts. The Ridgeline is not as big a gamble as the aluminum F-150 which is produced in dedicated plants and shared nothing with its other products until recently when Ford made their entire F series aluminum and even shared the cabs with all F series. Ford is even going to the F 150 platform for the new Expedition and Navigator and the aluminum body.

If Honda would have gone to the half ton, full frame, and V-8 route as Toyota and Nissan went to then I would agree with you that Honda could have huge costs that they might not ever recover. The new Titan has not exactly been a game changer for Nissan nor is the Tundra a huge success but then Toyota produces the Tundra and Tacoma at the San Antonio plant and can and has shifted more production to the Tacoma due to its increased sales. Honda would have a hard time competing with Ford, Ram, and GM with a full size half ton V-8 powered pickup and Honda knows this. Honda could compete better in the midsize truck market if it offered an extended cab and a less costly truck. My opinion is that Honda doesn't care but if they can sell enough to make some profit and share an existing plant then it is worth the risk. Honda has not exactly bet the farm on the Ridgeline. Honda has much more at stake with the new redesigned Accord which will only offer turbo I-4s and will not offer an optional V-6. The mid size and compact sedan market has been declining rapidly and Honda's redesigned Accord is not a sure bet. Producing more crossovers, suvs, and pickups is much more profitable and worth the risk over a new sedan which has a much smaller profit margin in a declining segment. The stakes are much higher for Honda with the new Accord than with the Ridgeline which Honda could discontinue at anytime and not suffer too much financially. Honda is betting everything on the new 2018 Accord.

@trucker

You may be confusing a momentary hiccup in commodity markets with the long term trends that my previous messages on this topic have been clear to distinguish.

America's reliance on futures contracts in the key commodities markets is a true market-based approach, thank goodness, but it is more sensitive to short term fluctuations than a central command/control sort of system that the mad Euro nations seem to prefer.

Fortunately, these things are brief, i.e., 90 days or less. America has the potential to tap natural gas surpluses as a way to distill methanol for motor fuel additives, with blends almost identical to E85 or E20. Unlike wind, solar and geothermal, the infrastructure is already in place and cars/trucks have increasingly moved to Flex Fuel status during the last 20 years. As a result, we are very much insulated from supply issues that would have crushed economic growth during the 1970s.

Companies like Ford and Honda made commitments during the last 20 years to achieve impractical fuel-economy targets and now are unable to easily adapt to the current fuel rich environment. It's easy to understand why this confuses so many people because our whole system was rocked by fuel shortages a few decades ago and we now are looking at decades of fuel stability.

Be sure to take a look at gas-to-methanol distillation, and coal to methanol conversions. China is presently building the biggest coal to methanol plant on earth. The technology is here and the cars are already being built that can utilize these rich, high octane blends.

@papa jim--Pennzoil makes their synthetic motor oil from natural gas. I wouldn't say that the fuel standards are a waste since many vehicles are much more efficient than they were 20 to 30 years. Companies like Mazda have developed a new Sky Active engine that is cleaner and more efficient while not requiring spark plugs, the compression ignition gas engine which has the efficiency of a diesel. The combined fuel efficiency of sparkless, gas-powered Mazdas could rise to the high 30-mpg range. "To keep gasoline as a viable fuel (and reduce the need for pricey hybrid and electric vehicle R&D), engineers needed to ensure the company’s future engines used as little of it as possible. And Mazda does plan to continue using gasoline engines — even beyond the year 2050." http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2017/08/mazda-going-sparkless-skyactiv-x-engines-starting-2019/.

Papa Jim, the auto companies are still planning on more efficient cleaner vehicles and with the type of engine Mazda has developed this is a good thing. With the exception of the full size pickup and suv many of the vehicles are designed and built for a global market regardless of what the US does.

@trucker.

you have attempted to change the subject multiple times. that's the hallmark of a debater who's losing the argument. Just so you know.

the Ridgeline has not established itself sufficiently to consider the kind of investment Honda shareholders would have to endure for the tiny take rate of hybrid pickups.

Have a nice day.

@papa jim--I have not changed the subject. You said Honda should only make a full size half ton pickup with a V-8 or not have a truck. I specifically addressed why Honda did not and why the Ridgeline was a better choice. I am not trying to debate I am just stating why Honda did not go the full size truck route. How successful has Nissan been with the Titan? Not a good expenditure to design and build a half ton pickup that does not share parts and would need a separate plant to build since it would be a rear wheel drive and is a V-8 which is not what Honda currently has. The Ridgeline is the least expensive option for Honda and if it doesn't work then Honda can walk away from it with not as much invested versus a full size V-8 powered rear wheel drive. Honda would have to develop their own V-8s or buy from a competitor which is costly versus using their own V-6 and an existing platform. Please explain why a full size V-8 powered pickup would be a better option for Honda? Since you claim to be such an expert on the automotive manufacturing field can you explain to me why it is not more cost efficient to use an existing platform, an existing drivetrain, and many of the existing parts and stampings that are used on an existing product such as a Honda Pilot to develop a truck? Honda did not exactly start from scratch to develop this truck and much of this truck uses parts from the same parts bind of the Pilot. You are trying to debate me without rational reasoning and you are losing. Whether the Ridgeline fails or succeeds it is much less costly and less risky than starting with a completely new product that shares nothing with the existing Honda products. The break point on a Ridgeline is much less than developing a totally new product which probably would mean that Honda would have to sell a couple of hundred thousand units over several years to recover the cost of a full size half ton V-8 powered truck. Honda can sell that many Accords in a year thus they were willing to spend more to redesign the 2018 Accord but that is still a risk. Designing and manufacturing a new vehicle is not risk free. If you don't believe me ask FCA which discontinued the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart after a few years. Much more money and resources went into the new Chrysler 200 or Dodge Dart that went into the new Honda Ridgeline. FCA is now a takeover target for several Chinese auto manufacturers.

@papajim--As for a hybrid Ridgeline I never gave an opinion on it either way. Since I am not in charge of Honda I will leave that decision up to Honda. I will say it is more feasible for Toyota to put a hybrid in any of their products since they already have a hybrid system which has many years of proven reliability.

@trucker

please tell me about Australia...

Never been to Australia but it is definitely on my buck list. Maybe if the North Koreans decide to nuke us I might go there. Tell me about your senior facilitated living facility.

BAFO is back after a vacation (or rehab) and is off the grid again.

yes Big Al is back, I have been reading his comments on diesel vs. gas.

So boys, the verdict is in. Until Honda can find a way to penetrate the North American truck market the discussion of hybrid drivetrains is kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Like other trucks in the mid size space it is too expensive. Sure there are some lightly trimmed models to choose from if you can find one on a dealer's lot, but the prices often run north of $40 k. At that price, buyers can get an XLT crew cab with Ford's latest drivetrains. Plus, Ford dealers will tease buyers with some sexy money on the hood, something Honda dealers just won't do.

Hybrid? Wake me up when gas prices go above $4.00 in the midwest and south.

@papajim--There are some great sales on Hover Rounds and Hurrycanes. You should check them out. Beats walking.

@Big Al

You can still get help.

@ papajim and some others with this talk about how you can get a full size pickup for the price of a midsize. Some of you just don't get it. Many people buy the Ridgeline for the better ride and comfort over the regular full sized Body On Frame traditional pickup truck. Ridgeline Uni-body construction offers better ride and handling so if your not towing over 5,000 LBS doing rock crawling or hard core off-roading Ridgeline is not a bad choice.
The Torque Vectoring AWD System work in most all situations.
It can work in rain snow dry conditions aids in cornering of the truck at highway speeds.
Truck is a better daily driver than Full size unless you actually need that full size truck for hauling or towing at it's rated specs.
I will take a better riding more agile handling vehicle over a harsher riding less agile vehicle.

@RIDGELINE OWNER 2007--The problem with papa jim is that he is an aging dinosaur that is on the verge of extinction. This is papa's last hurrah. I am glad you like your Ridgeline and there are others like you that the Ridgeline is a perfect fit. The Ridgeline is not for everyone. Neither are half ton full size V-8 trucks, but those like papa jim refuse to see anything that is different than what they like and believe in. Papa only sees things from a very narrow point of view.

I would like to see Honda take a stab at a hybrid type Ridgeline it's been rumors floating around. The 10 speed in-house transmission in already in some models of the new Odyssey.
I sure it will be in the refreshed 2019 Ridgeline sporting a Tow-Haul mode this time. But people keep forgetting that Uni-body vehicles cost more to make than old school Body On Frame.
So when they say I can get a full sized F-150 XLT cheaper than a Ridgeline. This is one of the reason but while that F-150 body on frame can tow more or haul more because of it's Body On Frame. It can't handle as good as Ridgeline or corner better with it's Unit-Body. Same with the off-road stuff the almighty Tacoma is a off-road champ. But it's not the on-road champ when it comes to driving and handling the pavement.
So this is one reason manufactures switched to Uni-body construction of there SUVs. Fuel economy is not the only reason.
Ridgeline Driving dynamics are much better on-road than traditional Body on Frame truck. It never was intended to be a workhorse pickup truck or off-road king.

I will take a better riding more agile handling vehicle over a harsher riding less agile vehicle.

@2007

happy that you're happy. So far the sales numbers tell the rest of the story.

A civilized comment from papa jim. Good job papa!

Almost all of my comments represent the best virtues of civilized correspondence amidst the busy interchange of competing ideas.

It's a busy intersection so there's the occasional scraped knee or bruised ego.

Thanks for reading my comments.

@ papajim it's a shame some don't educate themselves about the Ridgeline. If you don't like the looks that's one thing. If it's not the rock crawler serious off-roader and you are into that stuff that's another. If it won't tow that extra larger size boat you have that's another. But many people mouthing off about it being girly is pure nonsense. It doesn't have a square looking block front like other pickup trucks. Heck look at some big semi tractor trucks have gone to more swept back front look.
It's not body on frame who says it has to be body on frame?
If other manufactures were about to go to uni-body for their midsized for there driving dynamics must be something to it.
If Honda would discontinue one of the others would jump on making a unibody truck.
I want the Swiss Army Knife of pickup trucks.
It has car like drive ability matches many crossover and even beats some passenger cars in this. But it is capable in many truck duties without having to deal with the trucks disadvantages.

@Ridgeline

For the purpose of this discussion about the newest Ridgeline, it's Honda's failure to sell adequate numbers of ts Ridgeline pickup, and the fact that their board of directors cannot be happy about 2 failed attempts to crack an enormous North American markets for pickups.

The discussion has nothing to do with my preferences, or yours. Americans buy millions of trucks every year.

Unfortunately for Honda, very few of them are Ridgelines.

@2007--There could be more uni-body trucks in the future especially if Hyundai decides to make the Santa Cruz.

We have commented enough on this story. How about the Chinese trying to buy FCA. Haven't see that story on this site.

Stay on topic. We want to hear your opinions and thoughts, but please only comment about the specified topic in the blog post.

@Jeff S

The China FCA story is not germane to the discussion of the Honda pickup

so when did you become the monitor of this website? Are you germane or German? Since you have the ultimate opinion on the subject of the Ridgeline we should let you make all the decisions on what is posted. I guess you think that Chinese interest in FCA is not that significant as this site would agree with you since this site again has missed this story while other sites have covered in numerous times. Much more significant article than a hybrid Ridgeline.

@papa jim--I would disagree with your comment you only want to hear opinions that totally agree with your opinions. You do not want me or others to comment that disagree with any of your beliefs.

@Jeff S

Try winning on the facts. The Honda pickups did not sell well. My opinion has nothing to do with it, ditto for yours.

I propose that Honda might have made a bigger splash by developing a half ton truck to compete with the high end Chevys, RAMs, Fords, Nissans.

The midsize market is a small fraction of the full size market. Why fish in a small pond?

@papa jim--That is your opinion which you are entitled to but what proof do you have that Honda would be more successful at building a full size, body on frame, half ton V-8 powered pickup. Honda currently builds no body on frame, V-8 powered, full size vehicles. How successful has Nissan been with a new Titan or Toyota with the Tundra? Both trucks are very good but they are competing again the Big 3 that can out produce them and can and will cut prices to compete. I respect that is your opinion but it is not fact. As for midsize 100k units per year of the Colorado/Canyon are not exactly low volume and the Tacoma sales are still strong. The problem is not so much the size of the truck but the design and pricing of the truck. Anytime a new vehicle is released it is risky. There are no guarantees. Every manufacturer has taken risks and most have had their fair share of flops. Less risky to develop a new product but then there is no guarantee that you would remain competitive and even in business. Honda most likely have calculated their risks and are willing to take the risk, but then there are no guarantees.

papa jim--meant less risky not to develop new products but then that does not guarantee you will remain in business. Making and selling vehicles is a risky business and tastes and economic conditions can change. Most auto company stocks pay little or no dividends not the best investment.

@Jeff S, or Trucker, or Big Willy, or Big Al or whatever you're calling yourself today.

It is about the facts. Opinions don't matter. You keep losing on the facts. Honda's truck isn't selling squat.

Instead of your hokey platitudes, why not just go back to making personal attacks and save your breath?

Oh yeah, and the multiple IDs make you look pathetic.

@papa jim--Whatever makes you happy. You are the self proclaimed expert and if it makes you happy then so be it. The Ridgeline will either be around for the next few years or it won't be. Much more important things to worry about starting with N Korea. Should we call you the oracle of Florida. Watch those sink holes while your at it the whole state of Florida might be sucked in. If Florida is one big sink hole then so be it. My suck some Silverados in and that would make the Ford guys happy.

@papa jim--You obviously failed reading comprehension. I never said the Ridgeline would succeed nor did I say it would fail, I said I understand why Honda made it and who its targeted market is. Maybe you did understand what I said and you are sparing for an argument. Must get bored in retirement between bingo games. I work full time so I could care less. You most likely will not be buying another truck and your 2009 Silverado will be you last ICE vehicle--next will be the Hover Around with a little flag on the back so those in the nursing home can see you coming and get out of your way. Eventually the Chinese will own both FCA and GM but I wouldn't care at that point because I will most likely not be driving by then. Maybe Ford will be the only remaining domestically owned auto manufacturer but then again maybe not. Maybe gasoline will get below a $1 a gallon and maybe it will be $4 a gallon. I really don't care and maybe you won't since you will be staring out the window of your new home losing the ability to drive. The next generations will be buying most of the vehicles, homes, and consumer goods and most will not want the opinion of a bunch of aging farts. The next generation will do things their own way. My 2 cents.

So, you lose (again!) on the facts and resort to pathetic personal attacks like Frank and Nitro. Birds of a feather!

@Papa Jim--You lose. The only way to respond to you is in the negative since that is what you bring to the comment section. You have not really convinced anyone to buy what you want them to buy. If anything you have convinced me not to buy another GM or Chevrolet which I have owned for over 40 years because I don't want to own anything that is owned by a jackass like you.

@Jeff S

Hurry, if you're lucky you and Mrs S can get a Honda Crosstour before they disappear over the horizon. Ooops.

It's been discontinued! Oh no. Selling 25k Crosstours just was not enough for the stingy board of directors over in Japan.

@papajim: The US produces more fossil fuel than we use? Why are we still importing 8 million barrels of oil a day then?

I’d love a plug in Ridgeline. I don’t need a real truck in an average year. I need to pick up 1/2 yard of dirt, haul bikes, hunting vehicle , and bad weather vehicle. I have a car and an old Tundra now but would go to one vehicle in a second if I could get it. I’d like 20miles electric range, enough power to pull a boat should I get one and after that, who am I kidding, I don’t need a real truck and am not trying to make up for other shortcomings by friving an F 350.

don’t need a real truck and am not trying to make up for other shortcomings by driving an F 350. Posted by: Dabouv | Oct 29, 2017

@dabouv

by all means, get a Ridgeline. It will haul your boat trailer just fine.

Or just get a V6 Accord. Under the sheet metal those Honda's are all the same anyway.

Honda shouldnt build truck. Oups they dont the Ridgeline is not a truck

Hyundai keeps making noise about building a car-based pickup.

Hard to imagine an outcome much different than Honda's failed experiment with 2 iterations of the Ridgeline. Pickup buyers already have a lot of options.

As of 2017, Honda sells four Pilots for every pickup.

Hardly a sustainable practice. Expect Honda to announce a different "direction" for their pickup during the next 18 mos.

More consumer options will not help Honda's already precarious Ridgeline.

Hyundai keeps making noise about building a car-based pickup.

Hard to imagine an outcome much different than Honda's failed experiment with 2 iterations of the Ridgeline. Pickup buyers already have a lot of options.

As of 2017, Honda sells four Pilots for every pickup.

Hardly a sustainable practice. Expect Honda to announce a different "direction" for their pickup during the next 18 mos.

More consumer options will not help Honda's already precarious Ridgeline.

It would be nice if Honda Ridgeline just maintain the as is engine so we can use the towing capability when need it (10 to 20% of used). Somehow add in the plug in option for regular short distance commute (80-90% of used).



The comments to this entry are closed.