Honda Fit electric car gets 118 mpg, but costs add up

Jun 06, 2012 by JONATHAN FAHEY
Honda Fit

At 118 miles per gallon (50 kilometers per liter), the Honda Fit electric vehicle is the most fuel-efficient in the United States. But getting that mileage isn't cheap — and it isn't always good for the environment.

Honda announced the eye-popping figure Wednesday, making the small, four-door hatchback more efficient than electric rivals like the Ford Focus, Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. It goes on the market this summer in Oregon and California.

The electric Fit has an estimated price tag nearly twice as high as the gasoline-powered version. It would take 11 years before a driver makes up the difference and begins saving on fuel.

With gas prices falling, the high sticker price for electric vehicles is becoming more of a barrier for American buyers, even though the vehicles are far more efficient than their gas-powered counterparts. That's hurting sales of electrics.

Through May, carmakers sold just over 10,000 electric vehicles, less than 0.2 percent of U.S. car and truck sales.

That's because the numbers don't add up for the average consumer.

— The electric Fit needs 28.6 kilowatt hours of electricity to go 100 miles (160 kilometers). At the national average price of 11.6 cents per kilowatt hour, that costs $3.30.

A gas-powered automatic-transmission Fit, which gets 31 miles per gallon (13 kilometers per liter), needs to burn 3.2 gallons (12.11 liters) to travel 100 miles (160 kilometers). At the national average price of $3.57 per gallon of gasoline, that's $11.52.

— People drive an average of almost 13,500 miles (21,725 kilometers) a year, so a typical driver would spend $445 on electricity for an electric Fit over a year, and $1,552 on gasoline for a regular Fit.

has valued the price of an electric Fit at $29,125 after a $7,500 federal tax credit. That's $12,210 more than the gas-powered Fit — a savings of $1,107 per year to make up the difference between the electric and the gas-powered version.

Customers don't want to spend the extra money up front and wait for years for payback, said Geoff Pohanka, who runs 13 auto dealerships in Virginia and Maryland, including three that sell the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt .

"People are smart. They're looking for the deal," he said. "Is somebody going to fork out $15,000 more for something that gets them less range than their car now? It's not happening."

At first, Honda will only be leasing Fit EVs in Oregon and California, for $389 per month. The subcompact seats up to five people and can be recharged in three hours with a 240-volt charging station. A fully charged Fit EV can go 82 miles (132 kilometers), meaning a daily commute could cost nothing for gasoline.

And leases can make sense for consumers. Carmakers can lower rates and subsidize deals in order to make a car — especially one with new, expensive technology — more attractive to buyers.

Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for the car buying site TrueCar.com, said he tested an electric Chevrolet Volt, driving it less than 35 miles (56 kilometers) a day from his Los Angeles-area home to work and back. The cost of leasing it — $369 a month — is comparable to the $300 he would spend on gas.

"In a lot of these cases, I'm surprised that people are not lining up to get these things," he said.

The comparison between gas and electric cars also can vary with geography, largely because energy prices vary wildly across America.

In Oregon, where gasoline is 18 percent more expensive than the national average and electricity is 16 percent lower, an electric Fit will save $121 per month in fuel. In Connecticut, which has the highest power prices in the country, the monthly savings are just $83.

The fuel used to generate electric power and the cost of gasoline also vary by region —and that affects how environmentally friendly an electric car purchase is.

In Midwestern states that rely heavily on coal, driving an electric car produces 18 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than driving a typical gasoline-powered car, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Surprisingly, driving an electric car there produces 50 percent more greenhouse gases than driving a 50 mpg (21.26 kpl) electric hybrid.

In the Northeast and Northwest, where a bigger portion of the power is produced with nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, natural gas-fired power plants and wind farms, an electric car will produce 76 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a typical gasoline-powered car and 56 percent fewer emissions than a hybrid.

No matter what the energy costs, Honda expects to trumpet the Fit EV's 118 mpg (50 kpl) figure, even though it will lease only 1,100 of the cars in its first two years on the market.

Honda predicts that the initial customers for the Fit EV will won't be focusing on a cost-benefit analysis. Instead, they'll want to make a statement about cutting greenhouse gases and reducing dependence on foreign oil, said Robert Langford, Honda's manager of plug-in electric vehicle sales.

Like the rest of the auto industry, Honda isn't sure when or if electric vehicles will ever replace those that run on gas, he said. The company keeps constant watch on sales of electric cars already on the market like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt.

"That's constantly on our mind right now and on our radar screen," said Langford.

Chevrolet doesn't actively market the Volt's 94 mpg (40 kpl) figure, because it's too confusing to explain to consumers that the car can drive that distance while running on electricity. The Volt, unlike other electrics, has a small gas engine on board to generate power for the car after the battery is depleted.

What resonates more with consumers is that the average Volt driver goes 900 miles before buying gasoline, said Cristi Landry, the car's marketing director.

She also isn't sure when electric cars will go beyond the environmentally conscious buyer and into the rest of America's driveways.

, Toprak said, won't sell en masse until customers know they will ultimately save enough to take a risk on new technology.

"You're not buying it to save the trees," Toprak said. "You're buying it to save money for yourself."

Explore further: Solar energy prices see double-digit declines in 2013, trend expected to continue

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ZacErnst
4.3 / 5 (9) Jun 06, 2012
It's a mistake to calculate the time until the car pays for itself without taking into account that the price of gas will certainly increase. That's the problem with a lot of calculations about alternative energy. You can't just take the current cost of fossil fuel as unchanging, despite short-term decreases in the cost of gas.
kaasinees
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2012
31mpg is very lucrative(searching the right word here). Often they do not get such mileage.
Parsec
5 / 5 (4) Jun 07, 2012
31mpg is very lucrative(searching the right word here). Often they do not get such mileage.

Its true that the 118 mpg they quote will often be compromised because of various factors, city vs highway, driving styles, etc. However, I also suspect that we will be paying a lot more for gas in 10 years than those used in the calculations. Overall, this car will be a likely 'Fit' (pun intended) to the market in a few years. When gas prices hit 8 to 10 dollars a gallon, I suspect that the waiting list to buy cars like this will start approaching the payback period.
Vendicar_Decarian
2.6 / 5 (7) Jun 07, 2012
Americans seem to be slaves to gasoline prices.

Foolish.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2012
In 1979 I had a 1600cc Ford Escort 1972 model and routinely got 33 to 36mpg. 4 cyl, extractors, 12v soldering iron jammed into fuel nozzle in the downdraught carburettor, RWD.

Went well :-)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Jun 07, 2012
It's a mistake to calculate the time until the car pays for itself without taking into account that the price of gas will certainly increase.

To be fair, though, the price for electricity will likely also rise somewhat. To get a really good comparison you have to factor in the buying power of your money (i.e. inflation) - because money isn't a value in and of itself. It's the measuree of what you can do with it that is the real thing to compare.
And for that sort of comparison shelling out X amount of dollars up front is not the same as spending X amount of dollars over a ten year timespan.
Eikka
3 / 5 (5) Jun 07, 2012
The biggest kicker here is that the payback period is easily longer than the battery lifecycle, unless they've seriously overprovisioned the car.

21,000 miles a year for a battery that is rated at 100,000 miles will last you 4-5 years. Even if you drive less, the calendar age of the battery in combination with the driving will likely hit you at 6-7 years. You have to remember these are lithium batteries - they age, and lose capacity constantly.

You can't come even with this car unless gasoline prices double next year.
Andrux
1 / 5 (4) Jun 07, 2012
The best option which I am currently exploring in more detail is to modify our current cars removing the engine and possibly keeping the transmission, simply replacing the gas engine for a powerful electric motor. Adding batteries in the hood and in the trunk to balance out the weight. EV are just as heavy as standard vehicles and look like a cheap ugly compact anyway... This solution probably would not offer much autonomy, but many people never leave their hometown in their everyday life and recharging would be made more accessible with time. The other upside for this type of solution would be less scrap (sure let's throw away our gas vehichles for asia to recycle them and sell them back to us for a cheap 35 000$)privileging recuperation in america instead. EV as ugly as an i-MIEV shouldn't sell for more than 9000$. Forget luxury, give us the essentials.
jlynn73
not rated yet Jun 07, 2012
My Honda Fit gets anywhere between 39 and 45 depending on which way the wind blows. I would like to know where theyre pulling these 31 mpg numbers from. The only way I have gotten anywhere close to that is driving 80 on the interstate into a headwind in the middle of the winter, letting the car warm up in the mornings.

The fact remains that Honda uses a short gear in their manual transmissions to match their automatics mileage estimates. I often wonder if Honda intended me to pull stumps with my Fit in first gear?
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) Jun 07, 2012
118mpg looks good, but the pricetag (and the design) are a bit of a turnoff.
I'll stick with my Smart roadster (that gets between 58 and 48mpg - the latter if it's all Autobahn)

The argument that en EV is not always good for the environment because the electricity is generated by coal is bogus. Getting electricity via high efficiency coal power plant -while not optimal- is still infinitely better than using a low efficiency fossil fuel combustion engine.
JeremyC
3 / 5 (4) Jun 07, 2012
That's freakin' hilarious. We're going to save you gas, but it's going to cost more. So much more, it might even out to a regular vehicle. The problem with the world. NEED=$$$$. This has nothing to do with want, this is something the world needs and they want to charge you prices that aren't economic or consumer friendly. There won't be many sold.
wiyosaya
1.5 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2012
The biggest kicker here is that the payback period is easily longer than the battery lifecycle, unless they've seriously overprovisioned the car.

21,000 miles a year for a battery that is rated at 100,000 miles will last you 4-5 years.

It does not play out that way as evidenced by real-world examples. The battery on a first or second generation Prius is rated for 100K miles, 150K if you live in California - though its the same battery everywhere its sold. Yet, there have been reports of gen I Prius' with in excess of 220K miles and no signs of the original battery needing replacement.

Severe wear will occur if the battery is allowed to go outside of its optimum charge state, however, the charging system in such vehicles is designed to maintain optimum charge state. I suspect that even in EVs, the vehicle's electronics are designed to shut down or reduce power to the main drive well before charge state reaches a point where the battery will suffer severe, permanent damage.
wiyosaya
3 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2012
The argument that en EV is not always good for the environment because the electricity is generated by coal is bogus. Getting electricity via high efficiency coal power plant -while not optimal- is still infinitely better than using a low efficiency fossil fuel combustion engine.

Agreed. It is similar to battery life arguments, and whatever other arguments currently abound. The price of gas will not remain constant, and, if anything, will trend upwards whether consumers like it or not.

In addition, this is ready for market technology. In the meantime, significant research efforts are being invested in this type of technology, and as such, the technology will progress.

Its the wave of the future, and I'm willing to bet that its form will change over time to become both more efficient and economical.
chardo137
4 / 5 (4) Jun 07, 2012
"With gas prices falling"
I would like to know where you live!
Eikka
2 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2012
Yet, there have been reports of gen I Prius' with in excess of 220K miles and no signs of the original battery needing replacement.


That's because the Prius uses NiMH batteries - a totally different battery chemistry that has different failure mode from lithium-ions. Well kept and in light use, they can and do last for decades.

If you take a lithium-ion battery and put it on a shelf, it will be done with in 7-8 years anyways. They are inherently unstable.

Why don't EV's use NiMH? Because it weighs twice as much. You can put one in a truck, but if you try to put it in a compact, you have to toss out the rear seats to stay below the axle load limits.
Caliban
1.5 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2012
Something that I would very much like to see is some or all of the body parts being made of solar materials. Even a subcompact would have 4 or 5 square meters of surface area to harvest sunlight, even if it is variable and passive.

This would also be a good way to help ramp up production/improvement/cost reduction of photovoltaic products.

Tick, tick, tick...
Mike_Massen
2.2 / 5 (5) Jun 08, 2012
Caliban needs a handle on "net present cost" versus value of energy
Something that I would very much like to see is some or all of the body parts being made of solar materials. Even a subcompact would have 4 or 5 square meters of surface area to harvest sunlight, even if it is variable and passive.

This would also be a good way to help ramp up production/improvement/cost reduction of photovoltaic products..
No.

You have to run the numbers, this is why cars dont have side panels or even roofs covered with solar panels because the cost of the panels and their energy return isnt economic.

However, the roof panel 'might' be suitable (marginally better) but again only for cost, its not just the panel its the overall engineering and that includes the structural issues, fabrication design, electrical interfacing etc.

Bear in mind car/utility companies run these sorts of numbers routinely on all sorts of issues and if there was even a small benefit there would be panels asap !
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2012
There are EV concepts with roof panels. These are barely good enough to run the AC (for the battery, not for the passengers. The batteries must be kept within a controlled temperature range).
This should tell you that there is no way that panels on the car would contribute significantly to the battery charge/mileage you get. Unless such panels (and the feed-in electronics) are for free this isn't going to happen.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2012
True for now, but as the material engineering advances, at some point this should become entirely possible. I don't expect to see it happen tomorrow, but in a few years time...why not?

M.M. -ignore the rating- thought at first you were ignoring the point I was making.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2012
why not?

Because even if we somehow invent 100 percent efficient solar panels plastering your entire car with them will only give you 5 to 10 percent of your car's power needs on a sunny day at midday.
Extendig your mileage from 100 to 110 miles is just not worth it. (and with any other conditions like morning, evening or night driving...or overcast, rainy, snowy, foggy weather..it will give you much less than that)

You just can't cheat physics (and the solar constant).
Mike_Massen
2 / 5 (4) Jun 08, 2012
Caliban worries needlessly, life is too short
M.M. -ignore the rating- thought at first you were ignoring the point I was making.
To be perfectly blunt I dont care a toss about ratings, completely subjective and totally dependent upon the intersection of the rater's understanding *and* their consideration of consequences *and* their emotional disposition *and* their sense of need to make a rating at all...

In other words, pointless to worry about. I think I have only made 2 ratings out of 100 or so articles I've subscribed to and only if a max was warranted - ie. Something I havent already thought of, ie rare yet thoughtful :-)

Aint I a smug bastard :-)

However, if I do get a series of 'bad' ratings from one particular snotty religious fanatic I will get their GPS coordinates, wait until the appropriate time for their prayer session and power up my prototype :-)

Cheers

Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2012
Because even if we somehow invent 100 percent efficient solar panels plastering your entire car with them will only give you 5 to 10 percent of your car's power needs on a sunny day at midday.


If we did have 100% efficient solar panels, just one square meter of it on the roof of your car would give you on average 10 miles of free driving each day.

Most of the energy would be collected while the car sits parked.
EvgenijM
5 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2012
The biggest kicker here is that the payback period is easily longer than the battery lifecycle, unless they've seriously overprovisioned the car.

21,000 miles a year for a battery that is rated at 100,000 miles will last you 4-5 years. Even if you drive less, the calendar age of the battery in combination with the driving will likely hit you at 6-7 years. You have to remember these are lithium batteries - they age, and lose capacity constantly.

You can't come even with this car unless gasoline prices double next year.


Electrical cars don't have to repair their internal combustion engines (they don't have one) - did you include this in your comparison?
baudrunner
not rated yet Jun 11, 2012
A statistic is missing here. People who buy this car have above average incomes, and that means that an hour of their time has considerable value. The time saved by not having to line up at the pump should be factored in, as should the intrinsic value of that convenience.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 11, 2012
The time saved by not having to line up at the pump should be factored in,

You have to line up at a pump station? Where in the world does that happen?

Electrical cars don't have to repair their internal combustion engines (they don't have one) - did you include this in your comparison?

I'm hoping that the repair costs of EVs will prove to be less than those of other cars. However, combustion engines are so robust thess days that you don't often have to repair them, either. Most failures in all cars these days are due to problems with the electronics, according to the guys at the garage I go to. And if anything EVs will have more electronics than old fashoned cars.

Initially I would even exepect other EV repairs to be more costly, too, because the diagnostics and repair workflows haven't been streamlined yet.
Paul_Gracey
not rated yet Jun 11, 2012
@ Eika. Ok, using widely circulated numbers, i.e. the 40 miles(64km) or less per day average use of a commuting car, the Fit will serve the needs of most users for ten years, not five. Perhaps These Lithium batteries wont actually go for ten years as you suggest? Then Honda has made a business decision to lease them, not sell them so that the 100,000 mile mandated warrantee will not be in effect. In five years time that will not be the case as better lasting battery technologies arrive. But keep throwing those rocks because as the technology stands up to them, that is how we will solve the problems of this paradigm shift.
MCPtz
not rated yet Jun 11, 2012
I live in the bay area in California and today I bought 10.5 gallons of gas for $4.11 a gallon. I usually do this once per week.
Assuming I continue my trend and gas prices are static for a year:
10.5 gallons * $4.11 / gallon * 52 weeks/year / 12 months/year =
$187.01 per month with static gas prices.

I have a 2009 Honda Civic and I own it.

If I lease a Honda Fit at $370 per month, that is just under 2 times more expensive than the gas I buy now.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2012
MCPtz offered:-
I have a 2009 Honda Civic and I own it.

If I lease a Honda Fit at $370 per month, that is just under 2 times more expensive than the gas I buy now.
MCPtz forgot to factor in depreciation. Leasing is a way to lump much of that into a price certainty per month. Since you already own the car, then to be accurate you need to factor depreciation otherwise you are offering a lie by negligence and ignorance of accounting practices !