The Danger of the Promise of the Imagined Future
Automobile sales are difficult to predict, even in the aggregate, where you’re guesstimating total sales for the year. When you drill down to a more volatile portion of the market like EV sales, it gets even less reliable. This is why at Clean Fleet Report we stay away from predictions, especially those several years out. Here’s a good example of why we follow this policy and will continue to focus our reporting on what’s happening right now, not in the unpredictable future.
Ceres and Citi Investment Research & Analysis took a look at electric vehicle sales back in March of 2011 and boldly predicted where the market would be in four years. That year was the first for electric cars — the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt — were just appearing, but other companies were expected to join in soon (Tesla had just launched its electric Roadster and Fisker’s plug-in hybrid was expected soon). Well, here we are four years later. Let’s see how the numbers stack up.
First a bit about who “they” are and what they were predicting. Citi Bank worked with Ceres, an environmental organization; Baum and Associates, auto industry analysts; the Rutgers University School of Planning & Public Policy; and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. They did an overview of the state of the electric vehicle industry and focused on individual company product plans, technology issues and government policies. The goal was to provide investment advice, which should serve as a cautionary tale when you look at how the predictions turned out.
Future EV Sales
The forecast was that more than 100 models would be on the market by this year, which included hybrids as well as plug-in hybrids, full battery electrics and fuel cell vehicles. The inclusion of conventional hybrids is the only thing that saves this report from being completely off the mark, although it did have a good sense of several of the models that would be offered by this year, including the Hyundai Tucson FCEV. Other than that, it’s easier to pick out the misfires that came from believing some the press release of 2011. Among the battery electric cars that were around in 2011 that are no longer a factor in the market:
• Myers Motors (inheritors of the Corbin Sparrow single-seat EV)
• Tesla Roadster (retired after 2,400 units)
• BYD e6 (other than a few demos running around in government fleets)
• Coda sedan (RIP)
• Ford Transit Connect (Azure Dynamics RIP)
• Mini-E (retired in favor of the Active-E and then the i3)
That leaves the survivors—the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf and Smart Fourtwo.
Smart ED – a survivor
Of the expected EVs, there also have been several no-shows or limited runs, including:
• CT&T NEV (a Korean neighborhood electric vehicle that never happened)
• Infiniti sedan
• Myers Motors DUO
• Peugeot Urban EV*
• Renault Fluence
• Renault Kangoo
• Think City (RIP)
• ZAP Alias
• Audi e-tron (still coming according to Audi)
• Fiat Doblo
• Lexus LF-A
• Ram Pickup
• Renault City Car*
• Renault Urban EV*
• Scion iQ (here and gone)
• Toyota Prius full electric
• Volkswagen E-Up* (possible U.S. model, surplanted by the e-Golf)
To be fair, the asterisked models were labeled Europe only, but not all of them appeared there, either. Finally, Citi had a list of “potential” models, which we’ll cut them some slack for, since they hedged their bets. The no-shows there are mostly small companies that haven’t made it along with a couple majors:
• Green Tech
• Lexus RX
• Nissan sporty car
• Reva NXT
• Subaru R1E
• Volvo C30
Citi had similar issues with the plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. But they also failed to foresee many of the vehicles now on the market, so one could say it all comes out in the wash. All of this is just to point the difficulty in looking into the future, even just four years down the road, and why we look very skeptically on any such predictions.
Finally, the report also forecasts production volumes and market share. Here’s their take from 2011, followed by the reality at the end of 2014 (ironically also using Baum & Associates data in large part).
Type – # of models – Volumes – % of “EV” Market
Hybrid – 57 – 518,200 – 55.2%
Full Electric – 37 – 215,200 – 22.9%
Plug-in Hybrid – 18 – 200,500 – 21.3%
Full Cell – 6 – 5,700 – 0.6%
Dec. 2014 (sales for year)
Hybrid – 45 – 452.152 – 79.2%
Full Electric – 13 – 63,325 – 11.1%
Plug-in Hybrid – 9 – 55,357 – 9.7%
Fuel Cell – 1 – Unknown – 0.0%
The market share story actually played out close to predictions, which may demonstrate that the market for these cars is developing, just at a slower rate than expected or hoped.
The 2011 study predicted Toyota would lead the market, followed by Ford, Nissan, Honda and GM, taking almost 80 percent of the market among five marques. Entering 2015, the race was very
Ford’s moved to electrify several models
similar, with Toyota dominating the volume hybrid market (66.8%), followed by Ford at 13.3%, Honda at 6.8%, Hyundai at 6.6%, GM at 3.5% and Nissan at 2.3%. The smaller volume full-electric market has Nissan leading at 41.8%, followed by Tesla 25.6% (2.9% of the overall “electric” market, about what was predicted), BMW 13.6% (1.2% of overall “electric” market, again about what was predicted, Daimler at 9.1% and VW at 3.2%. The plug-in hybrid market has GM leading at 41.6%, Ford at 37.4%, Toyota at 12.7%, BMW at 4.1%, VW at 2.5% and Honda at 1.6%. So the bottom line is the market has lost a couple potential players (Fisker, which was predicted to take 5.5% of the market, and Myers Motors, which was expected to take 1.2% of the market. Instead, because the conventional hybrid market continues to dominate in volume, Toyota has an even larger market share with the rest divided among other major automakers. Other than Tesla’s meager share, no new manufacturers have emerged to take on these new segments.
Forecasts were all over the map, but it is the high-volume models that threw off the projections the most. The Prius actually exceeded expectations, that is, if you count the whole Prius “family.” The Citi forecast showed the Prius at 150,000 units in 2015. The original Liftback sold 122,776 in 2014, while the “V” added 30,762 and the “c” model another 40,570. The Camry Hybrid was pegged at 40,000 units and it did come in just a shade under that number in 2014.
The Volt – selling, but not in the expected numbers
Among full electrics, the Nissan Leaf was expected to sell 90,000 units, but in 2014 it sold only 30,200. The other expected volume electric was the Tesla Model S, which didn’t hit the 22,500 number that was projected (delivering only 16,550 in the U.S.). Plug-in models were the furthest off, with the Volt selling 18,805 when it was forecast to sell 55,000; the Prius Plug-In was supposed to hit 55,000 units in 2015, but in reality in 2014 Toyota only sold 13,264; finally, the Fisker Nina (40,000 units) never made it off the drawing board before the company imploded. Similarly, the report projected Honda’s fuel cell car to sell 3,500 units; it won’t be introduced to the market until 2016 although some Hyundai’s are on sale now and will soon be joined by the Toyota Mirai FCEV.
One of the assumptions that drove the high projections was a belief that 2015 oil prices would be more than $100 a barrel, while they now hover at half that. According to the scenario they reference in the report, that difference could account for up to 300,000 sales. It also assumed a technology and energy efficiency improvement rate that industry has not delivered.
The 2011 report also relied heavily on the belief that government incentives and mandates would drive the electrification of the automotive market. In reality, automakers have found a variety of non-electrified ways to more economically get to the same fuel economy goals—Lightweighting, downsizing gasoline engines and using efficient diesel engines, among other approaches.
Projecting future trends in advanced technology vehicles is not what Clean Fleet Report is all about. We look at what you can buy now—or what’s coming soon, not what is promised beyond the horizon. We also stay away from reporting on “breakthroughs” in technology because of the gap between the early promise in the lab and the reality of mass production. The bottom line is Clean Fleet Report will continue to track what is happening in the market, looking at new vehicles and technologies likely to come to market, but will shy away from any far-reaching looks into the future. As Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Until it gets here, we’ll keep giving you everything you need about the present.
In the meantime, here’s some road tests of vehicles you can buy:
Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius & Prius Plug-In
Road Test: 2013 Nissan Leaf
Road Test: 2014 Chevy Volt
Acura ILX Premium
Dilemma: Green Driving or Wahoo! Driving?
At Clean Fleet Report we’re about hybrid cars, plug-in cars, pure electric cars and alternative fuel vehicles —mostly. We are also driving enthusiasts, and when the opportunity presents itself, we never say no to test driving a car that dishes out lots of Wahoos!
That’s what we did with Acura’s new 2013 ILX compact sedan. After a week with the ILX Hybrid, we swapped it for the ILX Premium—think of it as a more refined and luxurious Honda Civic Si that costs just $300 more than the Hybrid.
The ILX Premium is only available with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission. The tight action and high rpm characteristics of the 201 horsepower 2.5-liter engine work superlatively with this gearbox.
Underway, the Premium cruises at highway speed with minimal effort. Put your foot down on the drive-by-wire throttle, and 60 arrives in a quick 6.7 seconds from stop. Throttle response is crisp and immediate. This four cylinder builds power with the strength and smoothness of a six.
The overall balance is close to rear-wheel drive cars. It’s quite nimble, with just a touch of front push on turn-in. Press it hard and the tail drifts out in a smooth, predictable manner. You can drive this car with both steering wheel and throttle.
Dancing with the LXI on curvy two lane backcountry roads elicited a Wahoo! at every turn. But the reality is, most of the time— like everyone else—we drove the car in everyday traffic on a variety of road surfaces. The suspension said no sweat to patchy roads. It swallowed the worst of them with no bouncing or tipping or jolting. The suspension’s combination of firm for the curves and comfortable on the street is exceptional.
Hybrid vs HyFun!
After collecting our Wahoos!, we became serious about fuel economy. Just what kind of gas mileage could be wrung out of this little pocket rocket?
We clocked 251 miles on the trip odometer, 57 of which we weren’t thinking about fuel economy. The balance of the miles were dedicated to sensible driving: no jack rabbit stops, lifting off the go pedal long before coming to a
Acura ILX Premium Inteior
stop and a lot of short shifting—1st to 3rd, 3rd to 6th. We always kept pace with the flow of traffic, including some short stints on the freeways.
When we topped up with gas, divided the miles driven by the number gallons the results were 29.4 mpg. Certainly not close to the 41 mpg the Hybrid delivered the week before, but it was a significant 5 mpg increase over the EPA’s estimated 25 mpg.
If you view driving as mostly going from point A to Point B in the most fuel-efficient manner, than there is no dilemma, the ILX Hybrid fits your needs. But if you prefer taking the long way on roads less traveled that elicit Wahoos! when driving from point A to point B, then perhaps the choice becomes more difficult.
Green driving or Wahoo! driving? A dilemma that can only be solved by test driving both.
Note: A lot of Wahoos! and 29.4 mpg seems like a logical choice to me.
Other related articles:
2013 Acura ILX Hybrid Test Drive
Top 10 Hybrids That Will Really Save You Money
Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars
2014 Acura ILX Hybrid
In a step back towards its roots, Acura, Honda’s luxury division, is once again offering a less-is-more entry luxury compact car. Slotted below the TSX, the 2013 Acura ILX is somewhat reminiscent of the 1986-2001 Integra, but outfitted with more luxury. This time around Honda’s entry-level car will come with some environmental credentials and therefore deserves a review in Clean Fleet Report.
Like the Integra before it, the ILX shares its platform with the latest generation Honda Civic. However, don’t dismiss the ILX as just a dressed up Civic with an Acura nameplate; there are noteworthy engineering changes and interior refinements. Three models are available — base, Wahoo! and green. The base ILX is priced starting at $26,900 and is equipped with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. For lots of Wahoos, the ILX Premium is powered by a 201 horsepower four connected to a close-ratio six speed manual shifter and is priced at $29,200.
The green version is the ILX Hybrid, Acura’s first ever hybrid offering. Ironic considering Honda was the first carmaker to introduce a hybrid, the Honda Insight in 2000. Borrowing the hybrid system from the Civic Hybrid, the ILX Hybrid has a base price of $28,900; add the Technology Package and the price jumps to $34,400.
Honda’s IMA Hybrid System
The 2013 ILX Hybrid employs Honda’s fifth generation hybrid powertrain system that the automaker calls Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). It’s a descriptive name in that an ultra-thin, 17.2-kilowatt brushless electric motor/generator is “integrated” between the engine and transmission and only “assists” the gasoline engine during acceleration, which saves gas. This compares to other hybrid systems where the electric motor can assist the gas engine plus, propel the vehicle on electric power alone. In certain instances, the ILX Hybrid engine does cut off fuel and the car operates briefly on electric power only, but the engine’s parts still move.
Like other hybrid vehicles, the ILX has an idle-stop operation, which shuts off the engine when the car comes to a stop, and then fires up again when the brake pedal is released.
Acura ILX Hybrid
When the car is coasting or brakes are applied, the motor performs as a generator and charges the 20-kilowtt lithium ion battery pack located in the trunk.
The 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine features Honda’s i-VTEC intake and exhaust valve control system. The engine produces 90 horsepower and 97 pounds-feet of torque. Powered by the lithium ion battery, the electric motor makes 23 horsepower and 78 pounds-feet of torque for a combined system output of 111 horsepower and 127 pounds-feet.
Completing the IMA system is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that directs power to the front wheels. The CVT consists of a drive pulley and driven pulley that are linked by a steel belt, and operates somewhat like a 10-speed bicycle. It combines the fuel economy of a high-gear ratio manual transmission, the performance of a low-gear manual and the step-less shifting of a conventional geared automatic transmission.
Unlike the Civic, the ILX Hybrid has paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which lets the driver to manually choose seven fixed shift points for the CVT. Manual shifting can be used in either the Drive mode — ideal for most driving situations, or Sport mode — for more performance-oriented driving. For maximum fuel economy, an ECON mode provides increased battery assistance.
Surprising, and puzzling, the ILX Hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 39 mpg city/38 highway and 38 combined while the Civic Hybrid bests those numbers with 44/44/44. The IXL does weight around 100 pounds more than the Civic but…. ?
Styling, Cabin and Features
Styling won’t have you running to the closest Acura dealer; however, the ILX is quite handsome, albeit a tad conservative. Kudos to the designer who toned down Acura’s current overly large, nefarious chrome grille that certainly grabs attention, but for the wrong reasons. The new face has a slender version of the grille that is accented with thin, tapered lower air intakes and gets attention for the right reasons — it’s good design.
Distinct hood creases, pronounced side character lines and shapely rear wheel arches project a sculpted appearance that quietly says luxury. There is little to distinguish the Hybrid from the other two models, just a small rear deck lid spoiler and the now obligatory discrete hybrid badges.
The ILX cabin coddles its passengers in typical Acura fashion. That means comfortable and well equipped. The dash design follows the larger TL sedan’s curved shapes that give the interior a well-crafted appearance of
Acura ILX Hybrid Interior
understated luxury. White on black conventional gauges are well lighted and easily readable. For a quick glance at the myriad infotainment features, a five-inch info screen is placed atop the center stack.
Front seats are supportive in the right places and a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The rest of the ergonomics are straightforward, the switches and controls are high quality and everything is assembled perfectly.
This is compact car so, two rear seat passengers have adequate room, but nix a third person. And, since it’s a hybrid, the battery robs trunk cargo room, reducing it to 10 cubic feet versus 12.3 for its gas-only siblings.
Following Acura’s tradition, the base ILX Hybrid is very well equipped: keyless access with push-button ignition, heated exterior mirrors, speed sensing wipers, leather steering wheel and shift knob and of course, power windows and outside mirrors as well as cruise control. There’s no need to upgrade to the Technology package for features like Bluetooth, a USB port and voice text messaging because they are standard.
Acura doesn’t offer a list of options, rather the company bundles them into packages. The Technology Package is the only upgrade available for the Hybrid model. It includes a navigation system with voice recognition, AcuraLink communication system, leather seating, driver’s eight-way power seat, heated front seats, Xenon HID headlights and rearview camera. For music aficionados with long commutes, the ELB surround sound system alone is worth the additional $5,100 price.
On The Road
With the Honda Civic’s ride and handling reputation of being among the very best in class, engineers had a leg up in tweaking the chassis to conform with Acura’s tradition of overall driving fun with a refined feel in ride and handling. Acura reworked the rear multi-link rear suspension’s geometry, revised bushings and added dampers with two-stage valving at all four corners. The ILX also has a quicker steering ratio for a crisper steering response and body tensional rigidity is increased for added control during cornering.
The upgraded suspension tuning and more rigid body provides a refined ride comfort while delivering agile and responsive handling. Steering is nicely weighted and executes sharp cornering in an effortless manner.
When accelerating rapidly from a stop or merging into fast moving traffic, the ILX doesn’t exhibit much gusto. This can remedied by using the paddle shifters — hold after downshifting two or three gear settings and acceleration quickens. In ordinary driving conditions, however, the powertrain absolves itself well enough and the car becomes a solid performer on the highway.
Around town the Hybrid has a smooth, fairly well damped ride and it’s easy-to-drive and easy-to-park. The highway ride is firm, controlled and pleasant, not harsh. Bumps and those pesky expansion joints have a negligible impact.
One thing that sets the Acura apart from the Civic that lets you know it is in the entry luxury class is the quiet ride. This is accomplished by the use of laminated glass and the audio system’s noise cancellation feature.
But, there is one thing Acura didn’t overcome. When the gas engine restarts after shutting down temporarily at stops, the car shudders as it gets up to speed, just like the Civic Hybrid and that’s a luxury demerit.
Hybrid cars are all about fuel economy and the ILX, like most cars, gas-only powered or hybrid, can deliver fuel economy results that are better than the EPA numbers if driven properly, and I don’t mean hypermiling techniques.
Our travels during a week with the ILX Hybrid racked up 379 miles, 187 miles on Interstates, the balance was mixed in town and some highway miles. Results? Our combined fuel economy was 41 mpg, three mpg more than the EPA’s estimate.
ILX Hybrid in the Marketplace
Acura says the target customers for the new ILX are the younger members of Generation X and members of Generation Y— successful 20- and 30-somethings moving into the luxury car ranks but looking for high-value propositions in their purchases. The automaker is counting on this group of buyers to become longtime Acura customers.
The ILX Hybrid’s only direct hybrid competitor is the Lexus CT 200h. It’s $3,150 more than the Acura but the 43-city/40 highway fuel economy bests the ILX. However, Lexus will soon be dropping the 200h from the lineup, leaving the ILX as the least expensive luxury hybrid.
Acura considers Audi’s A3 a competitor, even though it is not a hybrid. Indeed, the A3 TDI diesel offers excellent fuel economy — 30 city and 42 highway — and has a base price of $30,250, $1,350 more than the ILX.
The ILX fills a gap in Acura’s lineup that has been missing for some time and opens door for new buyers wanting to step up to a premium car without a premium price. The added bonus is there’s a premium hybrid without a premium price.
Acura ILX Hybrid
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.
More articles you might find interesting:
ILX’s Evil Twin — The Premium 6-Speed (a comparison drive)
Top 10 Hybrids That Will Really Save You Money
Microhybrids Are Big MPG Boosters
Top 10 Green Cars on ACEEE List
Buick and other GM models have added stop-start under the brand of eAssist
In an otherwise lackluster year for the clean energy/clean tech sector, Clean Edge, Inc., in its Clean Energy Trends 2013 report, cites the trend to microhybrids as one of the more positive and lasting movements in the transportation sector. While much attention is focused on electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the group sees microhybrids, also known as start-stop, idle-stop-go, idle elimination, mild hybrid or other names, as contributing more to increased fuel efficiency than any other technology.
The technology has been on the market for more than a decade and at least 40 percent of the new cars in Europe and Japan already use it, but it’s on its way to the U.S. as well. The attraction for the auto industry is that this is a relatively cheap technology that delivers tangible fuel economy improvements and helps them along the way to the goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025.
The Clean Edge reports points to Johnson Controls, a 125-year-old Tier 1 supplier based in Milwaukee, WI, as the leader for American introduction of microhybrid technology, which has already shown up on several GM vehicles under the eAssist name and appears ready to spread to many more. It’s a relatively low-cost part of the overall hybrid package. Start-stop alone may add 5-10 percent to mpg numbers while coupled with regenerative braking and an electric-powered air conditioning compressor, that number could double based on European testing.
Clean Edge quotes Thanh Nguyen, technology planning manager for power solutions at Johnson Controls, as estimating $1,000 in start-stop and related technologies could get the average car to about 48 mpg by 2025. That cost is less than half of a typical full hybrid system (hybrid cars include start-stop as part of their fuel-saving package).
BMW and other automakers have added start-stop technology to their cars.
The GM models use start-stop in a system that delivers up to 36 mpg highway, a 25 percent boost compared to the non-eAssist models. Other companies currently on the American market with non-hybrid start-stop systems include BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Jaguar. Ford, Kia and the Dodge Ram pickup are the next ones expected to add the system.
Clean Edge cites Lux Research as forecasting that start-stop systems alone, not including full hybrids, will be found on eight million new vehicles by 2017, which would be four times the number of hybrids on the road today. Johnson Controls expects that by 2015 more than 35 million vehicles worldwide would employ start-stop systems. In addition to Johnson Controls, other companies supplying systems are Axion Power, Robert Bosch LLC, Delphi Automotive and Exide Technologies.
What Clean Edge has pointed out is a truism of the auto industry. Automakers will find the lowest cost solution to meeting regulatory standards that still satisfies customers. In start-stop systems, they appear to have found just the kind of tool they like to boost fuel economy while not compromising the overall performance of the vehicle or costing more than a consumer is willing to pay.
Honda Civic Hybrid is a good hybrid car alternative for those who want a traditional looking sedan that seats 5. This front-wheel drive compact saves fuel at 42 mpg. At 4.4 annual tons of CO2e, this hybrid emits actually emits less greenhouse gases than its CNG cousin. The Honda Civic Hybrid is #2 on our list of Top 10 Hybrids for 2010.
After driving our 2002 Toyota Prius for six years, my 85-year old mother gave us her 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. The Honda has been a trouble-free pleasure to drive. Lacking the Toyota Synergy hybrid drive, the Honda does not deliver the fuel economy of our 2002 Prius and delivers 20 percent less miles per gallon than the 2010 Prius. For people who want a conventional 4-door sedan, not the “funny looking” Prius hatchback, the Honda Civic Hybrid is a good choice.
Mileage & Carbon Footprint
- 42 miles per gallon (mpg) overall
- 45 mpg highway
- 40 mpg city
- 4.4 tons CO2e carbon emissions per year
- $24,000 starting
- $27,000 with premium interior including leather seats
Green Hybrid Drive System
IMA® couples a 1.3-liter, 8-valve i-VTEC® 4-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor. Although the engine alone provides sufficient driving performance, when additional power is required, a permanent-magnet electric motor mounted between the engine and transmission provides power assist. The drive system operates in one of four modes:
1. Engine off. This is when the vehicle is stationary, the engine is often automatically turned off. The battery powers accessories such as air conditioning.
2. Low-speed valve timing (LO-VT). The Civic applies this mode for startup and acceleration with motor assist, and with engine-only operation for high-speed cruising and gentle acceleration at higher speeds.
3. High-speed valve timing (HI-VT). This mode is for rapid acceleration at higher speeds, and has the engine operating in high-speed valve timing mode with motor assist.
4. Cylinder Idle. The valves of all four engine cylinders are closed and combustion halted. The electric motor alone powers the vehicle. This mode is used during deceleration when the electric motor acts as a generator and stores energy in the 158 volt NiMH battery. Cylinder Idle also saves gas in stop-and-go traffic, running the Civic only on the electric motor.
The Civic Hybrid is equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Similar to an automatic transmission, CVT is an advanced transmission that substitutes the gears found in more traditional transmissions and replaces them with a metal push-belt running between a pair of variable-width pulleys. Combined with the Drive-by-Wire™ throttle system, the CVT constantly adjusts to provide the most efficient drive ratio possible to provide better fuel efficiency and acceleration than a conventional transmission.
The car is roomy with 4 people; tight with 5. To get 3 in the back seat, it helps if they are all distance runners, or the one in the middle is a child. The car has 91 cubic feet of interior space. The trunk space is OK with 10 cubic feet. The back seat cannot be lowered to expand cargo.
The NHTSA gives the Honda Civic its highest 5-star rating for driver and front passenger safety, and 4-star for rollover safety and 4-star for side collision safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awards a Top Safety Pick for the 2010 Honda Civic 4-door: good performance in front, side, rollover, and rear tests. The Civic handles well, offers plenty of airbags, electronic stability control, and even alerts you if your tire pressure is low.
Honda is intent staying in first place for overall fleet fuel economy. Honda is likely to expand the hybrid drive system to more models; possibly the Fit in a couple of years. Honda sees a future of all electric drive systems with the range extended by a hydrogen fuel cell. Twenty early customers now lease for $600 per month the Honda FCX Clarity Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle. The FCX Clarity may be five years away from significant commercial production. My test drive of the FCX Clarity demonstrated its quiet ride, smooth handling, and fast acceleration in an electric vehicle that is bigger than the Civic, yet has a 240 mile range.
Other Cars to Investigate
Toyota Prius continues to deliver about 20 percent better mileage than the Honda Civic Hybrid. You can seat up to five, or drop the back seat and carry lots of business stuff, extras for a vacation, or bicycles and snow boards.
Honda Insight may save you at least $2,000 over the Civic Hybrid. It is also a 5-seat hatchback with an aerodynamic design similar to the Prius. The Insight only gets 41 mpg; very close to the Civic Hybrid 42 mpg.
Ford Fusion Hybrid is a smooth riding traditional 4-door midsized sedan that is made in America. Expect to pay about $4,000 more than the Honda Civic Hybrid for more room and some upscale options.
Honda Fit is a popular Sport Wagon for Honda lovers who cannot afford a hybrid. It can be $8,000 less than the Honda Civic Hybrid, but your savings will diminish over time due to less mileage. The Fit only gets 29 mpg compared to 42 for the Civic Hybrid. The Fit has about as much interior space as the Civic, but you can lower the back seat for more cargo space.