In the Northeast and Northwest, where a bigger portion of the power is produced with nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, natural gas-fired power plants and wind farms, an electric car will produce 76 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a typical gasoline-powered car and 56 percent fewer emissions than a hybrid.
No matter what the energy costs, Honda expects to trumpet the Fit EV's 118 mpg figure, even though it will lease only 1,100 of the cars in its first two years on the market.
Honda predicts that the initial customers for the Fit EV will won't be focusing on a cost-benefit analysis. Instead, they'll want to make a statement about cutting greenhouse gases and reducing dependence on foreign oil, said Robert Langford, Honda's manager of plug-in electric vehicle sales.
Like the rest of the auto industry, Honda isn't sure when or if electric vehicles will ever replace those that run on gas, he said. The company keeps constant watch on sales of electric cars already on the market like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt.
"That's constantly on our mind right now and on our radar screen," said Langford.
Chevrolet doesn't actively market the Volt's 94 mpg figure, because it's too confusing to explain to consumers that the car can drive that distance while running on electricity. The Volt, unlike other electrics, has a small gas engine on board to generate power for the car after the battery is depleted.
What resonates more with consumers is that the average Volt driver goes 900 miles before buying gasoline, said Cristi Landry, the car's marketing director.
She also isn't sure when electric cars will go beyond the environmentally conscious buyer and into the rest of America's driveways.
Electric vehicles, Toprak said, won't sell en masse until customers know they will ultimately save enough to take a risk on new technology.
"You're not buying it to save the trees," Toprak said. "You're buying it to save money for yourself."
Fahey reported from New York.
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