The good news for electric vehicle fans: Honda has dropped the lease price for its 2013 Fit EV by more than 30 percent to try to grab a larger share of the market.
But the bad news for Tennessee: The deal is available only in California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, Honda says.
"We started selling the car in California and Oregon last July, and we just added the Northeastern states this spring," American Honda Motor Co. spokeswoman Jessica Fini said from the company's Torrance, Calif., headquarters.
Honda's move is the latest salvo in a battle for electric car supremacy, even though electric sales still account for only a tiny fraction of the overall U.S. auto market.
Automakers sold just more than 12,000 pure-electric vehicles in the U.S. through April, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank and Tesla Motors. That's less than 1 percent of the 4.97 million cars and trucks sold during the same period. Even a $7,500 federal tax credit that effectively lowers prices couldn't persuade most car buyers.
Automakers need to create a market for the cars among buyers who won't ordinarily go for the latest technology, said Larry Dominique, a former Nissan Motor Co. product chief.
"The early adopters are kind of phased out of the EV market. To get that broader appeal to the EV, they're doing some pretty aggressive lease deals," said Dominique, now an executive with the TrueCar.com auto pricing website.
Honda has not announced plans yet for rolling the vehicle out to other markets, including Tennessee. The states where it's available now are those that have adopted California's stricter auto-emissions standards, and consumers there have been generally more accepting of all-electric vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions.
The new Fit lease plan is $259 a month for 36 months, down from $389 a month. There is no down payment, and the company has dropped the previous 12,000-mile annual mileage limit, Fini said. The company is offering a free 240-volt charger for lease customers, a $1,000 value, although consumers will have to pay any installation charges.
Also, Honda offers free standard maintenance on the Fit, as well as no-charge collision insurance. The consumer must provide liability insurance.
In cutting the monthly lease payment, Honda has joined other EV makers, including the industry-leading Nissan, in lowering prices to entice more consumers to try battery-operated cars.
Nissan last fall began offering a $199-a-month lease on its all-electric Leaf compact, which is now being assembled in the company's Smyrna plant. The plant also now makes the lithium-ion batteries that power the Leaf. A $2,000 down payment is required on the Leaf, and lessees are limited to 12,000 miles a year without extra charges.
The Fit EV, a subcompact based on the gasoline-powered Fit hatchback, can go about 82 miles on a charge, Honda says. The 2013 Leaf's advertised range is 84 miles between charges, Nissan said.
Nissan has also lowered the base price of the Leaf to $28,800 for 2013; the Fit starts at $36,625. Federal and state tax breaks can lower the Leaf's purchase price to below $20,000.
Franklin-based Nissan North America said that it had no specific comment about Honda's new Fit lease program, but that the Leaf is "doing well and is available nationwide."
"We just came off our best two months since launch, with 1,937 delivered in April and 2,236 in March," Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman said. "We have sold more than 25,000 nationwide already."
Nissan's strategy all along "has been to bring zero-emission cars to the mass market," he said. The Leaf went on sale in limited areas in December 2010 before eventually going nationwide.
Other EVs available in limited areas in the U.S. are the Ford Focus e, with a monthly lease of $284 with a $929 down payment; Fiat 500e, $199 and $999 down; and the Chevrolet Spark EV, also $199 a month, with $999 down.
All of those have limits of 12,000 miles a year during the three-year lease period, except for the Focus, which is 10,500 miles.
The new Fit lease price starts Saturday, and it will apply to those who are already leasing one of the vehicles at the original $389 a month, Honda said. Those customers will start paying the new lower price as of their June payments.
Honda also has a deal with SolarCity to allow Fit EV customers to install solar-powered home charging systems with no upfront cost.