Honda Flip-Flops on U.S. Release of Honda Fit Hybrid
We first heard about plans for a hybrid gas-electric version of the Honda Fit in 2006. Since that time, Honda’s plans to bring the compact car—which could become the least expensive hybrid on U.S. roads—has been on and off again several times.
The Honda Fit Hybrid went on sale in Japan last week, and will be offered in Europe early next year. But the company remains indecisive about selling it in the United States. “We haven’t decided on a U.S. launch,” Koichi Kondo, Honda Executive Vice President, said at the Fit’s launch event in Tokyo. “As for the future, it’s open to question. We will carefully be watching the market situation.”
Could Small Hybrids Be Big?
Honda’s uncertainty has been widely reported as a decision not to sell the Fit Hybrid in the United States. Some consumers, including a HybridCars.com visitor named Marty, were disappointed. “Honda has done it again! They always keep the coolest cars away from the U.S. market,” wrote Marty, who dislikes the new Honda Insight, because of its limited space and versatility. On the other hand, the Honda Fit is frequently praised for packing a roomy interior into a small vehicle platform. “I love my ‘07 Honda Fit, but the mpg could be better [with] the 1.3 liter engine paired to the CVT that the rest of the world has on the Honda Jazz/Fit,” wrote Marty. “I have been waiting a long time for a Hybrid Fit and this really just burns me up!”
In Japan, the Hybrid Fit and the Honda Insight get the same mileage ratings. (In the U.S., the Insight is rated at 40 mpg in the city and 43 on the highway.) The price tag for the Honda Fit in Japan starts at about $19,200, which is 30 percent more than the re-styled gas-only version. The hybrid delivers a 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency compared to the conventional model.
Depends on Gas Prices
Kohei Hitomi, Honda chief engineer for the Fit, said that Americans are probably not willing to pay the hybrid premium for marginal mileage gains. “Basically, the gasoline Fit gets very good mileage as it is,” Hitomi told Automotive News. “I think many Americans would be asking whether it is worth paying extra.”
In 2008, when gas prices spiked to $4 a gallon, Honda gave a green light to the Fit Hybrid for the United States. At the current relatively low price at the pumps, Honda is once again hesitating.
In Japan, where higher gas prices and stronger green car incentives are in place, Honda expects the hybrid version to represent 40 percent of total Fit sales volume. The company is aiming to sell about 5,600 units a month, and already has about 10,000 pre-orders.
If Honda decides against bringing the Fit Hybrid to the United States, then Toyota could be the single automaker offering a compact gas-electric car in America. Toyota is expected to release a compact version of the Prius in the next couple of years. In 2012, Toyota will introduce an all-electric mini-car, about the size of the Scion iQ, to U.S. car buyers. The company said last month it would also produce a hybrid version of the Yaris compact for the European market at its factory in France beginning in 2012.