World's first hybrid sports car hits the road

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The world's first hybrid sports car has been unveiled in Tokyo and is to be released globally this summer.

Honda Motor Co. has added the futuristic CR-Z to its lineup of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles and belives its environment-friendly credentials will give the car an advantage over existing sports models, such as the Nissan Fairlady or the Mazda RX-8 at home, or the BMW Z4 roadster.

The CR-Z - which stands for "Compact Renaissance Zero," according to Honda - was unveiled on Thursday, with the carmaker reporting that it had already received advance orders for more than 4,500 units.

The company has set a sales target of 1,000 units per month in Japan, but global sales of as many as 50,000 units when the car is available internationally.

Honda President Takanobu Ito bemoaned the trend of declining auto sales in Japan and said he hopes the vehicle appeals to single men and women in their 20s and 30s as well as older couples whose children have left home.

"I believe we need to take up various challenges and work harder to revitalize the market," he told a press conference in Tokyo.

The economic downturn has had a serious impact on car sales in Japan in the last 18 months, but more worrying longer-term trends include fewer consumers, due to a declining national birth rate, and young people simply being less interested in purchasing a car.

The industry as a whole has also suffered a loss of faith among customers after the president of rival Toyota Motor Corp. admitted in hearings before the United States House of Representatives panel that the company placed more importance on expanding its business than ensuring safety.

Ito said his company had learned from that example and was improving its internal quality control measures.

The Honda president said he was confident the CR-Z would "exceed customers' expectations" because it was fun to drive, had an attractive design and was environment-friendly.

The car is equipped with a 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine, enabling the car to travel 25 km per liter of fuel - compared with just 12 km per liter for Honda's other, gasoline-powered sports cars. The CR-Z is also the first model to incorporate Honda's three-mode drive system, which allows the driver to choose sport, normal or economy modes, depending on the driving situation, such as on a freeway or in an urban setting.

The basic model will sell for Y2.268 million (€18,640), rising to Y2,498 million (€20,530) for the high-end version. Prices have not been set for overseas markets yet.

The Honda CR-Z is being touted as the first hybrid sports car. Other sports cars using gasoline alternatives include Tesla's all-electric Roadster.

JR

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