PASADENA, CA – Honda expects to sell 1,100 of its new Fit EV electric vehicle over the ’13 and ’14 model years, with deliveries getting under way July 20 in select Oregon and California markets.

While the auto maker is buoyant about the car's prospects, touting its 118 MPGe rating – the highest yet bestowed upon an EV by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is cautious concerning the near-term prospects of battery-powered EVs.

"The only thing we know is what we don’t know," Steve Center, vice president-American Honda's Office of Environmental Business Development, says here during a media backgrounder on the car.

Despite other EVs on the market consumers can purchase outright, such as the Nissan Leaf and range-extended Chevrolet Volt, Honda believes EV battery technology is evolving too quickly and consumer comfort too unclear to deviate from its lease-only scheme, which it hopes dealers will follow.

The lease price is $389 per month for 36 months, with no money down. That includes maintenance, collision coverage, an annual update to the car's navigation system and roadside assistance.

Honda will have about 40 Fit EVs available for the July 20 launch, Center says, adding there are "many, many more (people) than that in the queue" lined up to purchase the car, without citing a specific number of hand-raisers.

Those interested in leasing a Fit EV first must be vetted by Honda, a process that includes an energy assessment to determine if their house can accommodate a 240V charging station.

Honda’s charger supplier is Leviton, and the unit costs $1,500. Charging stations made by other companies also will work, as long as they are compliant with the SAE J1772 connector standard.

Center expects the 1,100 Fit EVs to be evenly distributed over the ’13 and ’14 model years.

"It's a pretty steady flow (of vehicles expected)," he says. "So one of the challenges we have is maintaining that queue, because what was interesting today may not be interesting two years from now."

Conversely, demand may be stronger than expected, in which case the auto maker is willing to build more of the cars.

Honda is assembling the Fit EV in Japan. Center says it still is up in the air whether the car will be made alongside the non-EV Fit at the auto maker's forthcoming new plant in Celaya, Guanajuato,Mexico, opening in 2014.

The current-generation Fit is in the twilight of its life, having debuted in 2009 in the U.S., another reason Honda is planning to produce a small number of the EVs, he says.

In addition to the 118 MPGe rating, the auto maker is touting the faster charging time compared with competing EVs.

The Fit EV is fully charged on a 240V line in three hours or less, compared with four hours for the Focus EV and seven hours for the Leaf and Mitsubishi i.

The Honda EV uses a 92-kW (123-hp) electric motor and a 20-kWh Toshiba lithium-ion battery, with a lithium-titanate-oxide anode. The anode’s chemistry provides better durability and reduces charging time, Honda claims.

"The LTO anode allows for more electrons to get into the battery quicker," says Robert Langford, manager-plug-in electric vehicle sales and marketing for American Honda.

Helping matters is the 32-amp Leviton charger, which pushes more electrons into the battery more quickly. It's also a small battery, so it fills faster, he says.

In comparison, the Ford Focus EV has a 23-kWh battery and the Nissan Leaf a 24-kWh pack.

The Fit EV comes in only one grade, which includes navigation with a rearview camera, a USB port, Bluetooth and a bio-based fabric that is made 30% from sugarcane-residue materials.

Honda’s HondaLink EV telematics system also is standard and includes a smartphone app, allowing owners to schedule charging of their Fit EV, view nearby public charging stations and remotely activate the EV’s air conditioning system to cool its interior.

The Fit EV includes three driving modes: Econ, Normal and Sport. Motor output is altered with each, with Sport having the maximum 92-kW output. Normal delivers 75 kW (101 hp) and Econ 47 kW (63 hp). Honda compares the Fit EV’s throttle response and passing power in Sport mode to that of a BMW Z4 3.0si, with its 265-hp 3.0L I-6 engine.

The Fit EV rolls out to the East Coast markets, expected to be Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington and Hartford, CT, in spring 2013. Availability beyond those markets and California and Oregon is undetermined and depends on interest in the car by customers in other parts of the country.

Only select Honda dealers will carry the Fit EV. Retailers were picked based on their customer-satisfaction scores and sales volume of current Honda alternative powertrain models, such as hybrids.

The Japanese auto maker is undertaking a variety of marketing activities for the Fit EV in the U.S., including placing about 30-50 units into each Zipcar fleet in various cities and displaying the Fit EV at eco-focused events and trade shows.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com