The Honda Fit Goes Electric

The Honda Fit* is one of the best executions of a small car on the road today. And Honda is upping the ante with the Fit EV. There won’t be many of them for the near term, but going forward, this could be the significant shape of things to come.

The Honda Fit EV is a car for regular customers, not a hand-selected group of individuals. But it isn’t a car for many customers. According to Steve Center, vice president, Office of Environmental Business Development, American Honda, over model years 2013 and 2014, there will be 1,100 vehicles leased ($389/month for 36 months; includes maintenance, collision coverage, annual navigation update, and roadside assistance). The Fit EV will be available in limited markets, starting in California and Oregon in 2012, then expanding to select East Coast markets in calendar year 2013 (e.g., Boston, New York, Washington).
Wait a minute. 1,100 cars? In a good month they sell that many Accords or Civics in a day. And it is not like they are capacity constrained as regards Fits; last year, Honda moved 59,235 of them in the U.S. Isn’t this some sort of beta test on steroids?
Perhaps. But Steve Center makes an interesting point about the roll out of the Fit EV, one that is uncharacteristic of most mass market auto companies: This is a deliberate, measured approach. This is not about making grandiose claims of market penetration for an electric vehicle, only to have to back pedal. They want to make sure that the car works as they claim it will.
What’s more, Center points out that when you look at a matrix of various types of advanced vehicle technology, ranging from straight forward down-sizing all the way to fuel-cell powered EVs (and it should be noted that Honda has had a fuel-cell powered EV, the FCX Clarity, available in limited numbers in California since 2008, so this is not some sort of theoretical assessment) while the EV scores very well on Social Values (Very Good for both Air Quality and Energy Security; Good for Green House Gases), when it comes to Marketability, of the four categories, it scores Very Good on only one, Appeal, with the other three, Infrastructure, Vehicle Cost, and Full Function all marked red, Challenging.
Yet address the challenge they will. Adrienne Hall, who handled product planning for the Fit EV, says that while “no one knows the size or the strength of the EV market,” not only are there regulations (e.g., CAFE) that need be addressed through changes to the fleet, but that “social priorities are driving auto makers into the EV market.” People, they’ve discovered through research, are interested in vehicles that are environmentally oriented.
In addition to which, Honda Motor Co. (the overall firm) announced in June 2011 its environmental initiative, under the slogan “Blue Skies for Our Children,” which calls for the reduction of CO2 emissions from its global products—and this includes the production and supply chain operations—by 30% by the end of 2020 compared with its year 2000 levels (in 2006 it set a goal to reduce its global CO2 emissions from its motorcycles, automobiles, and power equipment by 10% compared with 2000 levels by the end of 2010, which was accomplished). From the standpoint of its motor vehicles this is being addressed by a portfolio approach, which includes a range of new engines, continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), and hybrid systems (which are going out under the banner “Earth Dreams Technology”). And the portfolio approach also applies to the types of vehicles it is fielding, as not only are there highly efficient cars with conventional powertrains, but the aforementioned FCX Clarity, hybrids (Civic, CR-Z, Insight), and the only OEM-produced natural gas-powered car (a Civic). The 2013 Honda Accord will be offered as a plug-in hybrid.
Honda is no stranger to EVs. There was the 1997 Honda EV Plus.
But a lot has changed since then. Which brings us to the 2013 Fit EV.
Essentially, the Fit EV is pretty much the gasoline powered Fit, with a few modifications made to accommodate the change in powertrain, changes both to make it more aerodynamic (due to the smaller front air intake, a rear spoiler, and a flat underbody, the coefficient of drag is 14% less for the EV) and to package the air-cooled, Toshiba-sourced, 20-kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack beneath the floor. And, of course, in place of the fuel door on the rear left quarter panel, there is a lid on the front left fender that covers a SAE J1772 charging port.
An interesting aspect of the Fit EV’s development is how it builds upon other Honda vehicles. The car has a 92-kilowatt (kW) AC synchronous electric motor similar to the unit that powers the Honda FCX Clarity. To help assure quiet operation of the Fit EV, the motor housing is increased compared to that in the FCX Clarity, thereby helping minimize noise and vibration.
The motor is designed for high output, high torque, and high rpm. The rotor and stator have a combined reluctance-torque, low-loss magnetic circuit and full-range, full-digital vector control. The rotor shaft is hollow; the driveshaft passes through the center in a coaxial configuration. Consequently, the motor and gearbox are in a single, compact unit, which is beneficial both for packaging as well as for transmission of the power from the motor to the driveshaft. The rotor uses an interior permanent magnet that lowers inductance, improves reluctance torque, and delivers high-torque performance. While similar to the rotor design in the FCX Clarity (and even to that in the EV Plus), the magnet’s shape in the Fit EV is designed for increased energy conversion. The average motor efficiency in the EPA city driving test cycle is 94.6%.
The Fit EV’s rotor and stator feature a combined reluctance-torque, low-loss magnetic circuit and full-range, full-digital vector control to achieve high efficiency and high output over a wide speed range. The innovative shape and layout of the magnets in the rotor result in high-output, high-torque, high-rpm performance. These innovations deliver a maximum output of 92 kW. Average motor efficiency in EPA city driving test cycle is a very high 94.6%.
What’s more, at this point in time the Fit EV has the highest-ever EPA fuel efficiency rating, achieving 118 MPGe (mile-per-gallon equivalency). It is measured at 29 kWh per 100 miles. The unadjusted range is 132 miles per charge; the EPA adjusted range (city and highway driving) is 82 miles, which is greater than the ranges for the Nissan LEAF, Ford Focus EV, and Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
What’s more, the vehicle is engineered so that when the on-board 6.6-kW charger is connected to a 240-volt, AC Level 2 Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) device, it can be charged in less than three hours, which means that it has the fastest recharge capability in its class. When connected to a standard 120-volt AC wall outlet, the full recharge time is on the order of 15 hours.
CR-Z elements come into play as that hybrid’s three-mode drive system—SPORT, NORMAL, ECON—has been adapted to the Fit EV. When SPORT is selected, then a maximum of 92 kW of electrical power is available for acceleration; this is said to be analogous to a 3.0-liter gas engine at half-throttle. Not only is there a readily discernible difference in responsiveness, and just as is the case when the accelerator on a gasoline-powered car is used heavily, there is a marked decrease in range, down 10% compared with the NORMAL mode.
In NORMAL, there is 75 kW of electrical power available for acceleration. This is said to be like a 2.0- to 2.4-liter gas engine at half throttle.
Then there’s ECON. In this case, there is 47 kW available during acceleration, although 75 kW can be accessed during full throttle. To reduce the draw on the battery by the HVAC system, there are a reduction of the blower fan speed and minimized AC compressor and electric heater engagement whenever possible. As much as a 17% increase in driving range compared to NORMAL can be achieved in ECON.
Large project leader (a.k.a., chief engineer) Sachito Fujimoto, who also served in that role for the FCX Clarity, says that one of the guiding principles for the Fit EV was “Mottainai,” which he says is about “optimizing the use and reuse of available resources.” So clearly, not only is there the use (reuse?) of the Fit for this EV, but there are the reuses and refinements of the technologies from the preceding vehicles, noted above. Another aspect of Mottainai that he notes is about using “energy and time and intelligently.” Both are resources. And, as previously noted, the recharge time for the Fit EV is best in class and so is the use of electric energy in the system.
But along with Mottainai there was another key word, Fujimoto says: “Fun.” As in that SPORT button.
Let’s face it: Green is good, but sometimes you want to pick a more exhilarating color from the palette.