Honda hasn’t had much luck with its recent hybrids.
The Honda Insight and upcoming Honda CR-Z Hybrid coupe fell short of promises to combine a great price with leading fuel economy—or in the case of the CR-Z, with a sporting drive. The Honda Fit Hybrid—coming out this fall in Japan, but no timing yet announced for the U.S.—could be Honda’s chance to finally create a gas-electric winner.
First of all, the conventional Honda Fit platform is a major critical and popular success. It has a smart but playful appearance, and a deceivingly large and versatile five-passenger interior. If Honda can add a hybrid powertrain at a relatively low premium—for a final price well below all the hybrid competition—then the company might have reached the right dollar-per-mpg ratio. The Honda Fit Hybrid’s prospects wouldn’t be hurt if gas prices starting making a rise by the time its delivered, maybe in 2011?
In The Works For A While
We reported was back in 2006 that Honda was planning a hybrid version of the Fit. That news flash was based on an exclusive interview with an unidentified source—but company officials denied the report. “We’re not thinking of a Jazz (Fit) hybrid right now,” said Takeo Fukui, Honda president and CEO, in December 2006. “To us, the Jazz has sufficient fuel efficiency with the current gasoline engine.”
Fukui reversed his story in May 2008 when he told reporters that the spike in crude oil prices convinced Honda that “a Fit hybrid is now starting to make sense.”
On May 26, 2009, Japan’s Nikkei business daily reported that Honda plans to roll out a gas-electric hybrid version of the Fit in Japan in fall 2010—about a year and a half ahead of the original schedule. That timing appears to be on schedule. Despite the global slowdown in auto sales, hybrids are hot sellers in Japan.
Getting More Real
Nikkei reported on June 24, 2010, that the Honda Fit Hybrid will cost around 1.5 million yen, making it the cheapest hybrid in Japan. Loosely translated into U.S. dollars, that’s $16,500—positioned about $4,000 less than the Honda Insight and $2,000 more than the conventional Honda Fit.
Reuters speculated that this could create a price war on hybrids between today’s leading Japanese hybrid makers.
The new hybrid will be based on the Fit and share core gas-electric components—a 1.3-liter inline-four setup with Integrated Motor Assist—with the Insight. Cost-sharing will help with cost-cutting, and gives credence to the idea of a low price point for the Fit Hybrid.
Nikkei added that the Fit Hybrid will able to travel 70 miles per gallon on the Japanese cycle, compare to the conventional Fit’s 56 mpg. In the U.S., the conventional Fit is rated combined city-highway of 31 mpg. So, the optimistic wild guess for Fit Hybrid mileage would be high-40s, maybe even 50 mpg on the highway.
Takanobu Ito, Honda’s president, said in April that he’s pushing his engineers to reinvent their hybrid strategy. He wants the next-generation Honda Insight beat the Toyota Prius’s fuel economy numbers—and to deliver it as soon as possible. The Honda Civic Hybrid, and maybe even the Fit Hybrid, could use lithium ion batteries. And a rework of Honda’s hybrid system could potentially create a technology pathway to plug-in hybrids.
In terms of a total package of design, fuel efficiency, technology, and price, the Honda Fit Hybrid could be the company’s first chance to get it all right.