Honda Begins Cautious Introduction of Fit EV and Other Green Cars
Honda is finally getting around to marketing its alternative powertrain vehicles. But don’t expect to see lots of TV commercials for the automaker’s Honda Fit EV electric vehicle, its natural gas-fueled Civic, or its FX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. “You don’t need to market them the way you do to sell 300,000 Civics,” Steve Center, vice president of the Environmental Business Development Office for American Honda Motor Co. told PluginCars.com. Instead, Honda will use a lot of online marketing, and get owners of the cars to talk up the vehicles. “They are influencers in their community,” said Center.
Center, the former vice-president of advertising and public relations, assumed his new role at American Honda last August. Initially, the job only involved developing business plans for Honda’s multiple environmental products, including solar panels and the Hydrogen Home Energy Station. Effective December 1, however, Center also was handed responsibility for marketing the FCX Clarity, the Civic Natural Gas, and the Fit EV.
He spoke to PluginCars.com at an event in Torrance, Calif., American Honda’s home base, where Center handed the keys to a Honda Fit EV to Torrance mayor Frank Scotto. Various departments in the city will drive the car for a year to build public awareness of electric vehicles and get an idea of how a pure EV fits into the city’s fleet needs, Scotto told PluginCars.com. Similar ceremonies occurred in Northern California earlier in the week at the Google headquarters and at Stanford University. Each received one Fit EV to try out for a year.
Some Fit EVs will be available for consumer leasing this summer for $399 a month, including maintenance. However, Honda only plans to make a few thousand available over the next few years, starting with California and Oregon. “We will see how acceptance goes” in those two states before deciding to expand to other states, said Center.
Cautious By Nature
Honda is also ramping up availability of its Civic Natural Gas. The car has been on the market for years, but sales have been small and mainly to fleets. That is because natural gas refueling stations were not widely available, said Center. “They are now more prevalent,” he said. So Honda is expanding sales into the retail area, and 240 Honda dealers in 36 states will offer the car, he said. Honda expects sales to double this year compared to 2011 to 2,000 units.
More FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicles will also be available to lease this year, said Center. Interested parties can apply online. “We are looking for people,” he said.
Honda was one of the first automakers to offer a natural gas-powered passenger car and a fuel cell vehicle. The Honda Insight also beat out the Toyota Prius, to become the first hybrid on the US market in December 1999. But Honda did not aggressively promote those models. Why is Honda moving into the pure EV space just as cautiously?
“It’s our nature,” said Center. “We don’t want the customer to be disappointed.” Honda owners expect to use their vehicles for many years, he said. And, “a lot of folks who buy these (alternative fuel) vehicles are early adopters and they move on.”
The City of Torrance is a potential customer for more of Honda’s pure electric vehicles. It aims to replace its entire car fleet of 300 to 500 units with pure electric vehicles over time, said Mayor Scotto. “Hopefully, in the future every car we buy will be a pure electric car,” he said. That doesn’t necessarily mean a Honda, of course. Toyota’s US sales operations are also headquartered in Torrance.
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