The Honda Fit has been described, in more places than one, as the Swiss Army knife of small cars. It’s in the class of mini-cars and one of its more Swiss Army tricks is that the rear seat cushions rise up to reveal a floor, on which you can put those tall plants you couldn’t figure out how to get home from the nursery.
Honda also makes the Fit as an all-electric car (the Fit EV) and that’s the subject of today’s lesson – and if it’s a lesson, what do we learn from it? (The 2013 Fit EV we tested is virtually identical to the 2014 model.)
The Fit EV is the car that devotees of the Swiss Army knife school of transportation may want to buy – oops, you can’t buy it; you lease it – if only to stay with that idea of a practical little car. (One of a few caveats: Honda had to forego the trick rear seat because the floor had to rise three inches in order to find storage room for the lithium-ion battery.)
The car itself drives much like its gasoline-powered cousin, but there are enough differences to remind you this is not your ordinary Fit. There are gauges for electric power usage and they will constantly warn you that you are driving a car that effectively comes with a leash – Honda says the car’s range is 82 miles on a charge. That should be enough for the bulk of daily workers, who commute less than 40 miles roundtrip. But it’s still a leash. In more ways than one.
Honda is leasing, rather than selling the car because, as one auto industry veteran pointed out, electric cars are in their infancy and the technology is improving dramatically, from year to year. If you buy a Honda Fit EV today and three years from now the range has increased threefold, enabling you to go nearly 300 miles on a charge, you would understandably be a bit miffed when you found that your old 82-miles-on-a-charge car was nearly worthless. Honda started its U.S. Fit EV lease program in July 2012, saying the company would lease 1,100 cars over a three-year period. The lease price is $259 a month, with no money down, and Honda throws in a free 240-volt charging station for your garage.
The theory behind leasing rather than selling the Fit EV is that Honda, like other manufacturers, does not want today’s customers to be left in the EV lurch when a much better car comes out a few years from now. Hence, the fixed-end lease. Besides, if you could buy a Fit EV, you’d have to pay $37,415 for the car, according to the window sticker that accompanied the Fit EV we recently tested. You could buy two gasoline-powered Fits for that amount.
Which raises the question: if you’re fixated on getting an electric car, what about getting your Fit EV charged up when you’re away from home? Thought you’d never ask.
On the key fob of our test EV was a small tag that said Chargepoint on it. And this brings up the tantalizing aspect that maybe you can at least lengthen, if not altogether abandon the leash. Chargepoint is a Campbell, Calif., firm that, according to its CEO, Pasquale Romano, has “the largest network of electric vehicle chargers in the world.” Romano said, “We have 15,400 ports in the United States and Canada” and about 35 percent of them are in California. The point here is that most drivers are in big urban areas and Chargepoint covers those areas by trying to blanket public and private parking lots with its charging machines.
The chargers are usually in parking lots where people go to work or to shop, leaving their cars for the time it takes to charge up their cars’ batteries. (The Fit EV takes about three hours on 240-volt chargers and 15 hours on 120-volt, typical household current.) Chargepoint does not own the chargers, but sells them to shops and public agencies that want them in their parking lots. Drivers who have Chargepoint cards, like the one attached to our Fit EV’s key ring, are billed on their credit cards, but this is not a hefty bill. Romano said that frequently a retailer who has a Chargepoint charger will give shoppers free parking for the first three hours, for example, and then bill a dollar or two for each hour after that.
So at least you can drive your Fit EV from one side of your urban Sprawlopolis to the other and figure you will find the electric watering hole your car desperately needs, but in the larger scheme of things you are still confined to areas where there are plenty of chargers. With nearly 200,000 gas stations in the U.S. and Canada, the petrol leash is limited only by the capacity of your gas tank and your ability to find one of those stations. And it shouldn’t take three hours to fill your gas tank.
Frankly, I applaud the auto makers for taking these electric power steps, tentative as some of them are, to wean us from fossil fuels. But for now, we’re in the beginning of it all. Maybe the hybrid Toyota Prius, with its resounding success (3 million sold worldwide), is the parable – yes, we like electric and we like getting 50 mpg, but we also don’t want to be stranded. That’s why we have that gas tank in the back.
Louisville Kentucky Honda Dealer, Bob Montgomery Honda, http://www.bobmontgomeryhonda.com