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Honda decides to halt production of Accord hybrid

People who plan to "get green" by purchasing a hybrid vehicle will have one less choice when they hit the dealerships. Honda has decided to halt production on its hybrid Accord. The Accord hybrid simply was not popular enough for Honda.

The hybrid version of the Honda Accord hit the pavement in 2004 only in the U.S. and Canada. Since then the company has sold only 25,000 models. And just more than 6,000 last year. The hybrid Accord has not been as popular as the smaller Civic hybrid. Honda's Chris Naughton said the most important feature hybrid consumers are looking for is fuel economy.

"The Civic hybrid perhaps could be considered more of a balanced approach and by that I mean it seated five passengers. And yet also got very good fuel economy. The current one gets 50 miles per gallon as a combined highway city figure. Whereas the Accord which also seats five passengers it was more of a performance slant, and so it provided performance even better than our existing V-6 Accord, and yet it had the fuel economy of a 4-cylinder Accord," Naughton said.

Hybrids, which use a rechargeable battery to reduce gasoline consumption, are among a class of vehicles called Alternative Fuel Automobiles or AFAs. Monica Sakala, with the Automobile Alliance in Washington, said sales for AFAs hit record numbers the first quarter of this year.

"These new first quarter sales figures show that in 2006 of the total vehicle sales in the first quarter, eight percent were alternative fuel autos. And the first quarter 2007, 11 percent of total vehicle sales were alternative fuel autos. That's a pretty big change," Sakala said.

So if AFAs are fairing well why would Honda decide to cut production on one of its vehicles? Sakala would not speculate about Honda, but said sales vary between models.

"I think it just depends on each individual model. And so perhaps some models are selling better than others or some classes of vehicles are doing better in the alternative fuel auto category," Sakala said.

And that's what Honda said. The Civic hybrid is just more popular with car buyers. Honda plans to continue to produce Civic hybrids, but it will soon offer another choice. Again, Honda's Chris Naughton.

"In about two years we're going to introduce another hybrid model. It'll actually be a dedicated model. And by that I mean it won't be based on a Civic Chassis, for example, it will be a stand-alone model as a new hybrid. And it will be priced below the Civic hybrid, the current Civic hybrid, and will also be slightly smaller in size while still offering room for a family," Honda said.

But there is some concern people will quit buying so-called "green" cars. Once a manufacturer sells 60,000 hybrids tax incentives are reduced and then eliminated. For example, Toyota Prius buyers will no longer get a tax credit after September. Naughton said Honda is not that concerned about the tax credit issue just yet.

"For us it's in the near term. It's going to happen within this summer. And yet for now we have not yet hit a cumulative total of 60,000," Naughton said. Sakala said the auto industry is moving in the direction of selling more and more AFAs. But she said reduced or eliminated tax credits could effect a consumer's decision to buy a hybrid.

"Government incentives play a very important role in the increasing sales of these alternative fuel vehicles. And of course Congress is currently considering some legislation to raise fuel economy standards. And you know, what we hope is that they also consider continuing and expanding things like tax credits to really promote the sales of these types of vehicles," Sakala said.

The Automobile Alliance said there are about 11 million AFAs on America's highways.