A royal blue subcompact 2013 Honda Fit EV makes its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2011, nearly 15 years after Honda unveiled its first battery electric vehicle, the short-lived EV Plus. Rated at 118 miles per gallon-equivalent (50 kilometers per liter-equivalent) and an 82-mile (132-kilometer) range, the 2013 Fit EV's battery is designed to charge up in less time than you'd spend grabbing dinner and a movie, or watching a few episodes of "Downton Abbey" (about three hours at a 240-volt circuit).
For any electric car, the source of its electricity determines just how green the car's operation will be. Simply plugging in rather than tanking up can reduce the smog-forming pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with driving, even when coal and natural gas are part of the electricity grid mix. Electric motors are also more efficient than internal combustion engines, and using wind- or solar-generated electricity to power an electric vehicle can result in almost no greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Union of Concerned Scientists warns, "the use of coal-generated electricity releases significant amounts of global warming emissions, similar to those from an average gasoline vehicle."
And so cities around the world are seeking to pair electric vehicles with renewable energy. Stockholm, which generates 90 percent of its electricity from hydro systems or nuclear, aspires to have 1,500 electric vehicles on the road by 2015, while eliminating reliance on fossil fuels throughout the region by 2050. Amsterdam, meanwhile, has set out to have nearly all driving powered by electricity from windmills, solar panels, and biomass plants. By 2015, the city aims to have 10,000 electric vehicles traveling its roads.
Such ambitions aside, however, Honda foresees only a bit part for the Fit EV in the coming years. With 1,100 units planned for production over three years, and no option to buy rather than lease, some critics dismiss the model as a "compliance car" being built only to satisfy California mandates. By requiring large automakers to have plug-in or fuel-cell vehicles make up a minimum percentage of their sales in the state, California estimates 1.4 million zero-emission vehicles will travel its scenic Pacific highways and notoriously jammed freeways by 2025.
(Related: "Driving the Limit: Wealthy Nations Maxed Out on Travel?")
(Related: "Going "All The Way" With Renewable Energy?")