Honda, Fiat Stick To Minimal Numbers Of Popular Electric Cars

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2013 Honda Fit EV drive event, Pasadena, CA, June 2012

2013 Honda Fit EV drive event, Pasadena, CA, June 2012

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With a little price war on electric cars taking place in California, there are waiting lists for the Honda Fit EV, and this year's production of Fiat 500e may be sold out.

That means that Fiat and Honda will boost production to meet demand, right?


We've now talked to both carmakers, and neither has any intention of upping production beyond their originally planned numbers.

Compliance cars only

Remember, each of these cars is a compliance car--a vehicle built and sold only in California (and a handful of other states) in just enough volume to meet its zero-emission vehicle requirements, which started in 2012.

While its engineers produced a delightful electric car--perhaps nicer than the original gasoline Fiat 500--Fiat has said many times that every 500e will be built at a loss and the company is only selling the car because it has to.

Honda is equally dismissive of battery-electric cars, despite it too having built a fun, powerful, capable electric car.

Its position is indicated by its plans to lease just 1,100 Fit EVs over the three-year regulatory period--they're not for sale at any price.

After that it will take them back, relieving itself of 10 years' worth of parts and maintenance obligations. The fate of the cars themselves? We're not optimistic.

When Honda cut the lease price on the Fit EV, it was quickly swamped with orders--and had to apologize for the long waits.

Honda: pace won't change

But Steve Center, Honda's vice president of environmental business development, said in June that the company's pace of Fit EV production for the hand-built electric conversion won't change.

Each month, Honda's U.S. distribution arm will continue to receive 40 to 50 Fit EVs and allocate them to dealers based on the demand at the time.

That's because Honda assembles the hand-built electric conversion at the same low-volume factory that builds its FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.

Parts for those cars are ordered in very small batches, and there's little ability to "ramp up" production as you might on a conventional assembly.

Each of Honda's 200 electric-car-certified dealers will get one Fit EV at a time, potentially meaning one every four months.

If you're in fourth position on the waiting list, that means you might wait more than a year for a car.

2013 Fiat 500e electric car, Los Angeles drive event, April 2013

2013 Fiat 500e electric car, Los Angeles drive event, April 2013

Enlarge Photo

Sold out, no plans to change

Ten days ago, we chatted with Jason Stoicevich, Fiat's new U.S. chief, during a Chrysler-Fiat drive event at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan.

Perhaps due Fiat's intriguing "Environmentally Sexy" marketing campaign for the 500e, was it true that the first year of production had already sold out--even before the first electric 500 arrives at a Fiat Studio this month?

"The 2013 model year [of the 500] through the fourth quarter is pretty much spoken for," Stoicevich confirmed. "The demand is absolutely fantastic."

OK, then would Fiat boost its production numbers if demand remained strong?

"We have no plans to turn it up," he said.

Stoicevich did note that the Fiat 500e is bringing in new buyers to Fiat Studios, with more than 80 percent of buyers and lessees new to the brand.

"It's a halo car" for Fiat in California, he said, "in a very, very difficult market to do business in."

So if you want a Honda Fit EV or Fiat 500e, be prepared to get on multiple waiting lists, be prepared to persevere--and be prepared to wait.


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Comments (26)
  1. With such a small market, I wonder if it is a good thing that people are holding back production.

    I wonder if one reason that Nissan and Chevy get most of the plug-in sales is that there is little competition. If the competition was more aggressive, might we see the Nissan and Chevy Plug-in sales drop as buyers move to competitors? For now, it is probably good for chevy and Nissan that there is not much competition to steal their volume away.

  2. I think it's a bit early to tell whether Chevrolet is serious about selling the Spark in numbers, but at least they haven't flat-out stated they will arbitrarily limit how many will be made.

    Ghosn and Musk will likely keep on smiling for some time...

  3. The simple reason the Fiat 500e loses money is the production method. They are CONVERSIONS and produced on a low volume, high cost production line.

    Nissan has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a battery electric car can be successful and profitable when made in production - Nissan have three factories building them around the world.

    If Honda and Fiat did similarly, I think they could easily match or even outsell the Leaf and make substantial profits, especially as both of their offerings, stylistically speaking, have more mainstream appeal, which I think is important to EVs.

  4. I would rather see a company start out with a high quality/low production car than produce something like the i-Miev. Fiat produced a great car, it's produced a lot of interest and pent-up demand, and maybe in two or three years we'll see a production version. I'm hopeful, but carmakers better step up their game, otherwise Tesla is going to be the next Apple and cannibalize all their sales.

  5. So, what is the yearly production target for the 500e? We know the Honda number, but have no idea what the Fiat number is...

  6. Guess if your message is that EVs are not a viable proposition selling more than the bare minimum needed for compliance would just give the wrong signal.

    Maybe they think this EV fad will just go away but by the time Honda starts tossing its Fit EVs in the shredder Tesla should have its affordable sedan out...

  7. "Each month, Honda's U.S. distribution arm will continue to receive 40 to 50 Fit EVs and allocate them to dealers based on the demand at the time."

    Since each and every of the 200 approved dealers has a wait list of many customers, what exactly does this mean? The dealer with the longest wait list gets the most vehicles??

  8. @John: Honda told one of our sources that it would allocate them among dealers, but didn't say how. Sorry. It's one of several things the company may have been short on when their lease-price reduction proved unexpectedly successful.

  9. @John,

    Talking to few potential buyers, I think the main benefit with the Honda FitEV's draw is the "UNLIMITED MILEAGE" instead of the monthly price. To many high mileage drivers and with work place charging, that unlimited mile will more than pay for their gas bill per month and they are afraid to comit to existing plugins since they feel the technology is changing quickly and they don't want to get stuck with the existing offering. Honda's leasing program is the BEST ONE out there since it is the ONLY one that allows unlimited mileage.

    I am still curious about how the 500e plan number and how it is "sold out".

  10. There is also no incentives for Honda dealers to see the FitEV. They can't over mark the price since Honda set the leasing price. There is no service charges or any dealer surchages they can put on top. So, why would any Honda dealer work hard to get you a FitEV?

  11. If one ever needed proof that big auto is holding back on EV's and trying to make them fail, this is it.

    So they make overweight, overpriced and overteched EV's and say see how costly they are.

    Yet using a composite body/chassis with even cheap lead batteries and Forklift EV tech a 80 mph, 80 mile range aero EV could be made with a 20% sales profit at $10k in real mass production.

    But we get the crap they put out.

    But look at a company that wants to sell EV's like Tesla which is going to hurt big auto as it already has cut Euro Lux car sales in the lux sport sedan to negative rates at lower costs.

    Even if you compare the present EV's to their real competition, BMW's, etc high tech cars as they should, the EV's are already cheaper.

  12. @Jerry: A mass-produced composite body/chassis using lead-acid batteries (which have only one-quarter the energy density of Li-ion) and a "forklift motor" could be designed to pass NHTSA regulations and provide sufficient amenities to get people to buy it ... never mind being priced at $10,000 ???


    For some interesting attempts to do similar things that show just how incredibly difficult that might be, check out the considerable press around the results of the Automotive X Prize.

  13. Doesn't the ZEV Mandate get ramped up in 2014 and then again in 2018?
    So . . .

  14. No surprise. None of the mainstream auto manufacturers have any intention of seeing electric cars actually succeed! They all know it undermines their basic industry business plan. Which industry wants to put itself out of business, by producing a product that is so reliable, long lasting, and nearly maintenance-free? No sane mass manufacturer wants that.

  15. Actually, the best run, most efficient manufacturers would want exactly that (so I guess the crazy capable ones). It's only those that can't compete that fear competition in manufacturing quality goods made from commodity parts. I agree that no old US company wants that.

  16. Why would Toyota "fear" EV? Toyota supposes to be one of the most efficient automaker in the world.

  17. The batteries eventually degrade, and steel rusts, and parts fail, so no, there is still a good opportunity for repeat sales and costly dealer-only repairs. Nothing, even a car without pistons, needs no replacement parts as time goes by. EVs wont kill the automakers or dealers.

  18. Fiat 500e is sold out... Sure. Of course it is. There are NO cars on the dealer lot. NOT a single one. If you make zero and have zero available for sale, then you must be sold out...

  19. Fine, to Hell with both of them. Nissan, GM, Tesla, and, soon Kia, can have American EV buyers' hard-earned money instead. A shame because one would think Honda especially wouldn't be so backward thinking.

  20. @Paul: What makes you think Kia will be serious about producing anything more than the very minimum number of battery-electric vehicles it will be required to sell under the CARB ZEV rules starting in 2015?

  21. Prayer. Simple, calming EV prayer. Honestly I have no idea. Some say its just a compliance car, others say more, that Hyundai/Kia will sell them nationally. It is known they will at least have Chademo L3 chargers. If Kia does sell nationally and puts its standard 10/100k warranty on the car, including covering battery degradation, that's the EV I would definitely want. So I'll be here patiently waiting to see....

  22. This is disgusting and I hope that Tesla Motors will compete with Nissan for the EV market. I will not purchase a vehicle in the future from these ostriches who have their heads in the sand. It will be Tesla or Nissan (assuming Nissan continues to advance battery technology and Quick Charging infrastructure.

  23. After finding out I was 5th on the Fit EV waiting list I thought about it for a while and bought an Accord Plug-in instead. While I do occasionally burn gas for nearly all of my driving I'm running in electric mode so the end result is the same (less the range anxiety)

  24. {edit} "While I do occasionally burn gas, for nearly all of my driving I'm running in electric mode..." - what a difference a comma can make!

  25. How do you like the car? What is the MPG that you are getting in gas mode? How do you deal with the small trunk space?

    Also, did the dealer actively sell the car or is it something that you decided to get regardless of whether dealer pushes for it or not.

  26. "Who Killed The Electric Car". Looks like you have to just work around big business and the Government. If you have the money and interest, why not just convert a vehicle you like or create a "kit car" you like.
    I think the only way they have us is that it is difficult to impossible to finance a conversion. But in the long run...?

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