2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
China is the world's largest market for new cars, and it also has some of the world's worst air pollution.
Cities have had to limit new-car sales and restrict car use to combat rampant pollution, while the government is aggressively promoting electric cars as a solution to the problem.
But one carmaker believes that in a decade, Chinese emissions standards will be so strict that it will be virtually impossible to sell cars there without some form of electrification.
"In 2025, we don't expect to be able to sell conventional internal-combustion engines," Honda chief technology strategy officer for automobile R&D Keiji Ohtsu said in a recent interview with Ward's Auto.
Chinese emissions standards in place a decade from now will be so strict that Honda will have an all-hybrid lineup there, likely augmented by some plug-in electric cars and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Emissions standards first announced in 2013 already require carmakers to increase average fuel economy from a mandated 34 mpg in 2015 to 47 mpg in 2020--as measured on the country's own testing standard.
2015 Honda Accord Hybrid
China has also tried to boost sales of so-called "New Energy Vehicles"--including battery-electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell cars--through generous government incentives.
The predicted tightening of Chinese emissions standards comes just as Honda is ramping up production of hybrids.
It expects hybrids to account for 20 percent of global sales by 2020, according to Ohtsu.
However, they could account for as much as 80 percent of sales in Japan, and even the 20 percent Honda estimates for the U.S. would be a significant increase over its past numbers.
2016 Honda CR-Z
Honda eliminated the Civic Hybrid from its U.S. lineup at the end of the 2015 model year, and the Accord Hybrid on a one-year hiatus for 2016 before an updated model launches for 2017, leaving only the low-volume CR-Z two-seat hybrid hatchback.
The carmaker also plans to launch a new plug-in hybrid model in 2018, using the same platform as the 2017 Clarity Fuel Cell sedan.
A battery-electric model is expected around at that time as well, and may also use the Clarity platform.
Honda will focus more on hydrogen fuel cells, though. While it only plans to sell about 200 Clarity sedans in the first year, it believes they will become "mainstream" by 2030.