A Japanese newspaper reported last week that Honda Motor Company, Japan’s third largest automaker, plans to launch the world’s least-expensive mass-produced gas-electric hybrid car early in 2007, a modified version of its popular Fit subcompact model. Consumers in the U.S. can expect to pay under $17,000 for the car—about $4,000 less than Toyota’s popular Prius hybrid—when it is released globally next year. And given the car’s small size and excellent gas mileage projections, Americans can apply generous government tax credits to their purchase of the car, bringing the total cost down to less than $15,000.
Honda flirted with the idea of mass-producing its own unique hybrid car when it released the Insight model in 2000, but it has since focused on equipping existing models like the Accord and Civic with hybrid functionality. The company’s CEO, Takeo Fukui, has said repeatedly that hybrid functionality cannot go mainstream until the price premium is reduced significantly. Industry analysts see the hybridization of the Fit as a first step in this direction. Meanwhile, cost-conscious environmentalists everywhere eagerly await the inexpensive hybrid’s 2007 launch.