published Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Honda electric car gets 118 mpg, but cost can take years to recoup

The new all-electric 2013 Honda Fit EV is seen during its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, in Los Angeles. Honda said Wednesday that the 2013 Fit EV has received the highest fuel efficiency rating ever from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The new all-electric 2013 Honda Fit EV is seen during its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, in Los Angeles. Honda said Wednesday that the 2013 Fit EV has received the highest fuel efficiency rating ever from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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DETROIT -- At 118 miles per gallon, 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.

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. 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, needs to burn 3.2 gallons to travel 100 miles. 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 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.

n Honda 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 electric cars.

"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, 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 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 the country.

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

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