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Honda Fit Hybrid Challenges Toyota Prius Leadership

Honda Fit Outsells Prius

In January, the Honda Fit outsold the Prius in Japan. Prius had been the number one selling car in Japan for 20 months. Half of the Fits sold were the new Fit Hybrid, which delivers 71 miles per gallon (MPG) using the Japanese JC08 test cycle. In 2012, both the Fit Hybrid and new Fit EV are expected to start selling in the U.S.

The Honda Fit has been a popular small hatchback, with over 3.5 million sold globally. With five doors, seating for five, and flexible cargo space it is big enough for most, yet small enough to fit in those precious city parking spaces. Drivers like the sport fill and handling. Starting at around $15,000, the Honda Fit delivers 31 mpg, the mileage of many hybrids.

Honda Fit Hybrid 71 MPG

The Fit Hybrid removes pain at the pump with the 71 mpg in the Japanese test cycle which emphasises slow city driving at 16 mpg; by comparison the Prius is 77 mpg. Power is delivered from the IMA electric motor and from an efficient 1.3-liter i-VTEC engine. The battery for the hybrid system is located under the rear cargo and enables the Fit to share the same flexible seating configurations as the rest of the lineup without sacrificing interior comfort that is unique to Fit.

The Fit offers more room than outward appearances suggest. It has a B-segment exterior, but a larger C-segment interior. In the back is 20.6 cubic feet of cargo, but drop the back seat and you have 50.7 cubic feet. If that still is not enough for your ladder, home project, or surfboard, then you can flatten the front seat for added feet. In Japan, the passenger seat can even rotate for easy in-and-out or socializing with others.

Bigger and Better – Honda Fit Shuttle versus Toyota Prius

Toyota has no intention of letting Honda hold the number one spot in Japan, the U.S., or anywhere else. Toyota has expanded the popular Prius into a family of four models:

* 2011 Prius – world’s best selling hybrid
* 2012 Prius v –midsized wagon with 40 mpg goes on sale Summer 2011
* 2012 Prius c Concept – city car hybrid goes on sale by Summer 2012
* 2012 Prius Plug-in Hybrid – best mileage of any Prius goes on sale by Summer 2012

If you’ve been looking for great mileage from an SUV, crossover, or wagon, take a look at the new Prius v. It will share the current generation Prius’ platform and Hybrid Synergy Drive technology. Featuring a compact exterior yet spacious interior, the Prius v will feature over 50-percent more interior cargo space than the current Prius, while being almost as aerodynamic. The Prius v will compete with new crossover hybrids like the Ford C-MAX Hybrid. The Prius v will use NiMH batteries, just as the 2011 Prius. Next year, Ford will start delivering lithium batteries in all hybrids and electric cars.

Honda has countered by unveiling a longer Honda Fit Shuttle available with the current efficient ICE drive system and the new hybrid drive system. This compact wagon can be examined on Honda’s new Fit Shuttle Japanese website.  The wagon is expected to be unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show next month. Unfortunately, Honda is unlikely to offer this larger Fit in the U.S., at least for now.

Honda Fit EV

Honda unveiled the all-new Fit EV Concept electric vehicle at the LA Auto Show in November. In 2011 the Fit EV will be in fleet trials at at Google, Stanford University, and possibly others. In 2012, the car will no longer be a concept as customers go to dealers and buy the Fit EV. The Fit EV will compete with the larger Nissan LEAF, the Ford Focus Electric, and the Toyota FT-EV.

The Fit EV is designed to meet the daily driving needs of the average metropolitan commuter and utilizes the same 5-passenger layout found in the popular Fit hatchback. When the Fit EV production model is introduced, it will be powered by a lithium-ion battery and coaxial electric motor.

The high-density motor, derived from the FCX Clarity fuel cell electric vehicle, delivers excellent efficiency and power while remaining quiet at high speeds. The Fit EV will have a top speed of 90 mph.

The Fit EV will achieve an estimated 100-mile driving range per charge using the US EPA LA4* city cycle (70 miles when applying EPA’s adjustment factor). Driving range can be maximized by use of an innovative 3-mode electric drive system, adapted from the 2011 Honda CR-Z sport hybrid. The system allows the driver to select between Econ, Normal, and Sport to instantly and seamlessly change the driving experience to maximize efficiency or improve acceleration. While in Econ mode, practical driving range can increase by as much as 17 percent compared to driving in Normal mode, and up to 25 percent compared to driving in Sport mode. Acceleration improves significantly when in Sport mode, generating performance similar to a vehicle equipped with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine.

Hybrid and Electric Car Battle with Toyota and Ford

In their battle for hybrid and electric car leadership, both Honda and Toyota are learning a lesson from Ford – price matters and therefore manufacturing cost matters. Ford is offering 10 to 14 new models on a global C-car platform  with many chassis and components being common across a range of cars, SUVs, and crossovers. Ford will lower manufacturing costs, use high-volume common parts, and improve efficiency. Ford will increasingly enable customers to select a vehicle, such as the Focus, with powertrain options ranging from efficient engine to hybrid to plug-in hybrid to pure battery electric.

C-MAX Energi and C-MAX Hybrid are two of 10 to 14 new models that Ford will launch around the world based on its new global C-car platform – Ford’s first truly global One Ford platform. Ford’s new generation of C-segment vehicles will be sold in more than 120 markets and will account for more than 2 million units annually. The C-segment accounts for one in four cars sold worldwide today and, in conjunction with the B-segment, Ford expects it to rise to 50 percent of all cars sold globally by 2013.

Honda is wise to expand its popular Fit into a family that includes a larger wagon, a 71-mpg hybrid, and an exciting electric car with the potential to become the EV price leader. In a growing battle for fuel-efficient family offerings with Toyota and Ford there will be one clear winner – the customer.

New Honda Fit EV likely to cost less than Nissan LEAF

The New Honda Fit EV will go on sale for U.S. customers in 2012. By using the lighter Honda Fit platform, already in volume manufacturing, Honda could price the Fit EV at $29,900, less than the Nissan LEAF with a minimum price of $32,780.

The Fit EV was announced at the LA Auto Show as a concept. As crowds of reporters surrounded the car for photos, I could see that this new battery-electric car will be popular with current drivers of hot compact hatchbacks such as the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Cruze, and Mini-Cooper. In the next few months the Fit EV will hit the streets with real world daily driving at Stanford University, City of Torrance, and Google’s fleet and car share programs. The Fit EV will be introduced to the U.S. and Japan in 2012. The Fit EV will compete with the Nissan LEAF, Toyota FT-EV, Ford Focus Electric, and several others as competition heats for 2012 leadership.

This was the first time that a new global vehicle was personally announced by a Honda CEO at a U.S. show. Takanobu Ito, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. President and CEO. Stated, “We must advance from using less petroleum to no petroleum…. In Honda’s view, an electric vehicle must offer great utility and be fun to drive. Fit EV’s urban commuting capability will be a perfect addition to the full-function mobility of the plug-in hybrid and FCX Clarity fuel cell electric vehicle.”

Honda Fit EV is 100% Electric

I talked with Ben Knight, Honda’s Vice President of Engineering, about these new electric vehicles. Mr. Knight was proud that the electric drive system represent four generations of improvements for Honda starting with the Honda Plus EV in 1997 to Insight and Civic Hybrids to generations of advanced fuel cell vehicles with all-electric drives to the new CR-Z Hybrid. At optimal RPM, the new electric motors are up to 98 percent efficient. This is quite a contrast to the typical 15 percent efficiency of a gasoline engine.

The Fit EV is designed to meet the daily driving needs of the average metropolitan commuter and utilizes the same 5-passenger layout found in the popular Fit hatchback. The Fit EV is be powered by a lithium-ion battery and coaxial electric motor. The high-density motor, derived from the FCX Clarity fuel cell electric vehicle, delivers excellent efficiency and power while remaining quiet at high speeds. The Fit EV will have a top speed of 90 mph.

The Fit EV will achieve an estimated 100-mile driving range per charge using the US EPA LA4* city cycle (70 miles when applying EPA’s adjustment factor). Driving range can be maximized by use of an innovative 3-mode electric drive system, adapted from the 2011 Honda CR-Z sport hybrid. The system allows the driver to select between Econ, Normal, and Sport to instantly and seamlessly change the driving experience to maximize efficiency or improve acceleration. While in Econ mode, practical driving range can increase by as much as 17 percent compared to driving in Normal mode, and up to 25 percent compared to driving in Sport mode. The Nissan LEAF Eco mode only improves range by 10 percent. Acceleration improves significantly when in Sport mode, generating performance similar to a vehicle equipped with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine.

In addition to the 3-mode E-Drive system, the Fit EV will include several interactive coaching systems to assist the driver in maximizing battery range. A special meter display advises the driver when to shut off air conditioning and other accessories to conserve battery power.

Remote Control for New Electric Car

To help the driver manage the electric vehicle ownership experience, the Fit EV will have a standard connectivity system that allows the driver to stay connected through a smartphone and personal computer, or the Honda-exclusive interactive remote, while away from the vehicle. The pocket-friendly, interactive remote provides connectivity to the vehicle without the need for an internet connection or mobile phone signal. Through the connectivity system, drivers will be able to remotely view the vehicle’s state of charge, initiate charging and activate the air conditioning, even while connected to the grid, to reduce the drain on the battery at start-up. The mobile application and website also offers the ability to set charging notifications and alerts to optimize utility rates, and provides 24-hour roadside assistance, along with a public charging station locator. The Fit EV will come equipped with a standard Honda Satellite Linked Navigation System™ that includes a public charging-station locator capability.

The Fit EV is designed to be easy and convenient to charge. Battery recharging can be accomplished in less than 12 hours when using a conventional 120-volt outlet, and less than six hours when using a 240-volt outlet. The Fit EV has unique LED headlights, a chrome front fascia, aerodynamic bumper, clear LED taillights and EV decals. Inside, the Fit EV Concept is outfitted in an eco-friendly gray bio-fabric on the seating surfaces.

Displayed alongside the Fit EV Concept at the show is a prototype Honda charging stand. To begin charging, the driver swipes a card in front of the screen and then connects the charger to the vehicle. The Honda charging stand provides a glimpse at the future of an electric-charging infrastructure that is easy to use and intuitive for consumers.

Clean Fleet Report: Honda 2012 Plug-in Hybrid