Honda’s “Never Ending Race” Documents its Four-Decade Battle Against Air Pollution
Third film in award-winning Environmental Short Film Series explores Honda’s voluntary efforts to reduce vehicle emissions over forty-year period
- Honda’s successful demonstration of low-emissions vehicle technology led state of California to adopt new, more stringent emissions regulations
- New-vehicle emissions are 1/1000th of 1970 levels
- Next environmental “race” is against global climate change
As unprecedented levels of pollution choked the nation’s largest cities in the early 1970’s, a group of automobile engineers secretly toiled to develop an engine technology that would significantly reduce pollution from automobiles. Honda’s new environmental short film, “Never Ending Race,” tells the story of Honda’s industry-leading efforts to reduce vehicle emissions, and how its successful technology demonstration for the state of California led to more stringent exhaust emissions standards, eventually transforming the automobile industry’s approach to automobile emissions controls. Today, as a result, smog-forming emissions from new vehicles are one one-thousandth of 1970 levels1.
“Never Ending Race” is the third film in the award-winning Honda Environmental Short Film Series, which highlights the initiatives of Honda associates to fulfill the company’s vision for reducing its environmental impact and creating a more sustainable future.
The short film reminds viewers that urban air pollution has been a pressing social concern in the U.S. for nearly four decades. In the 1970s, Los Angeles came to symbolize America’s air pollution problem, experiencing over a hundred stage 1 smog alerts in just one year.2 A public outcry over dangerous smog levels led to the passage of the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970, which Honda answered with its now-legendary CVCC engine in the 1975 Civic, making Civic the first vehicle to meet the federal standards without the need for costly and complex catalytic converter technology.
The film begins with the former heads of California’s Air Resources Board and the U.S. EPA’s Assessment Standards division offering first-hand accounts of what it was like to live in the Los Angeles area during some of the worst years for air pollution. Both leaders, who played central roles in the implementation of tighter emission standards for California and the nation, offer praise for Honda’s efforts to assist the regulatory process and develop better emissions controls.
Having demonstrated the ability to make a much cleaner-burning engine with the CVCC, Honda continued to lead the way in the development and introduction of increasingly cleaner engines and automobiles.
In 1990, the state of California introduced Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) regulations that reduced allowable vehicle tailpipe emissions by 30 percent. Subsequent demonstrations by Honda engineers of its pioneering emissions technology eventually led to the adoption of even more stringent standards. Thus began a series of incremental achievements in automobile emissions controls and regulation. Honda led the industry with the first vehicles sold to customers that met these higher standards: the 1996 Civic (first low-emissions vehicle), the 1998 Accord (first ultra-low emissions vehicle), the 2000 Accord (first super ultra-low emissions vehicle), the 2001 Civic (first 50-state ultra-low emissions vehicle), and the first zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the 2005 Honda FCX.
Honda’s most recent achievement came in the fall of 2013, when California’s Air Resources Board announced that the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid was the first gasoline-powered car to meet its SULEV 20 standard, the most stringent in the nation and one-third cleaner (in terms of smog-forming pollution) than the state’s previous most stringent standard.
The result of this technological revolution is a dramatic improvement in urban air quality in the U.S. Los Angeles, for example, has not experienced a stage 1 smog alert in eight years, and only one in the last 14 years3, despite a steady increase in the number of cars per capita in the region and an increase in the annual miles driven per car. While Los Angeles and other cities still experience unhealthful air – primarily due to sources other than light duty vehicles – air quality is greatly improved from thirty years ago.
Honda’s achievements in reducing smog-forming emissions were significant, but they did not mark the end of the race; before the checkered flag could be thrown, the attention of the world and of companies like Honda shifted to the new and even more pressing issue of global climate change. Today, while Honda continues to reduce smog-forming emissions with vehicles like the Accord Plug-In Hybrid, the company’s technology innovation efforts are strongly focused on improving fuel efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change.
Honda has adopted a “portfolio approach” that seeks to provide both near and longer-term solutions to society’s environmental and energy needs, including more fuel-efficient gasoline and gas-electric hybrid cars like the Accord and Accord Hybrid, natural gas-powered vehicles like the Honda Civic Natural Gas, as well as electrically driven vehicles like the battery-powered Fit EV and hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity.
Honda plans to introduce an all-new hydrogen-powered fuel cell car in 2015 and unveiled a concept version of the vehicle, the Honda FCEV Concept, at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, where the 2014 Accord Hybrid was also named the 2014 Green Car of the Year.
Executive Quote “The race for a cleaner, more sustainable future has no finish line, but that’s okay because our competitive spirit is honed on the race track, and we bring that same intensity to the environmental race now, just as we have for the last thirty years,” said Robert Bienenfeld, assistant vice president of Environment & Energy Strategy for American Honda Motor Co., Inc. “Honda played a pivotal role in reducing air pollution, and now we are taking on the even more pressing issue of global climate change.”
Honda Environmental Film Series The Honda Environmental Short Film Series, featured on Honda’s YouTube Channel, was launched in August 2012 with the film, “Paint by Numbers,” which told the story of Honda engineer Shubho Bhattacharya who, inspired by his belief that global climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing mankind today, developed technology to reduce energy use in the auto body-painting process at Honda manufacturing plants in North America. The second film, “Every Drop Counts”, released in October 2012, tells the story of how a retired plant engineer’s sketch inspires a team of associates to generate clean, renewable energy using a simple but ingenious device. “Paint by Numbers” was awarded two Telly Awards in the Green/Eco-Friendly and Social Responsibility categories.
Honda Environmental Leadership Honda is a leader in the development of leading-edge technologies to improve fuel efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions. Honda has led the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) rankings of overall vehicle environmental performance since 2000, and a Honda vehicle has topped the list of America’s greenest vehicles from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) for eleven out of the past thirteen years. The company leads all automakers with twelve LEED-Certified “Green Buildings” in North America, and is producing products in North America with virtually zero-waste to landfill. In 2006, Honda became the first automaker to announce voluntary CO2 emissions reduction targets for its global fleet of automobile, power sports and power equipment products and its global network of manufacturing plants. In 2011, the company set a new CO2 emissions reduction targets for 2020, including a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions from its products compared to 2000 levels.