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Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito poses next to the Honda Fit Hybrid at an unveiling in Tokyo October 8, 2010. Honda will sell the hybrid version of its popular Fit subcompact for 1.59 million yen ($19,310) in Japan, making it the cheapest gasoline-electric car on the domestic market. (Issei Kato/Reuters)
Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito poses next to the Honda Fit Hybrid at an unveiling in Tokyo October 8, 2010. Honda will sell the hybrid version of its popular Fit subcompact for 1.59 million yen ($19,310) in Japan, making it the cheapest gasoline-electric car on the domestic market. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

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Fit Hybrid not for North America Add to ...

While a Honda Fit Hybrid has been confirmed for sale in Japan and Europe, after its official debut at the Paris auto show, the smallest and cheapest hybrid car to date won't make it to North America, Honda says, at least not until fuel prices jump up again.

The Fit Hybrid car will cost the equivalent of $19,686 in Japanese yen, versus a regular gasoline Fit that clocks in at about $14,851 at current exchange rates. That price makes it the lowest-priced hybrid in Japan, about $3,500 less than the Honda Insight, the least-expensive hybrid sold in North America now.

But the company doesn't think North American buyers will be willing to pay the $4,800 premium for the Fit Hybrid, because the gasoline subcompact is already one of the more fuel-efficient cars on the road. The gasoline Fit averages 7.6 L/100 km, according to the U.S. government's mileage figures found on fueleconomy.gov, while the official rating for the European Fit Hybrid (which is likely optimistic) is 4.4 L/100 km.

Buick confirms plans to go compact

Buick has confirmed that it will produce a compact sedan called the Verano starting next summer for the 2012 model year.

The Verano will be based on the same architecture as the Chevrolet Cruze, which goes on sale by the end of October. Engines have not yet been confirmed, but the Cruze offers a base 1.8-litre, direct-injection, four-cylinder, along with a smaller-displacement 1.4-litre turbo as the step-up offering, giving it a bit more oomph in the torque department and lower official fuel economy ratings.

The Buick Verano will be built at the Orion assembly plant in Lake Orion, Michigan, along with another Chevrolet small car thought to be the replacement for the Chevrolet Aveo. Online chatter has questioned whether GM will stick with the Aveo name; the Aveo subcompact will move up the GM model ladder in 2012 to make room for the Spark.

The Cygnet is about 30 cm longer than the Smart fortwo.

Aston Martin confirms Cygnet plans

Aston Martin confirmed recently that it will start producing its Cygnet, a Smart-car-sized city car, next year at its Gaydon headquarters in Warwickshire.

The Cygnet promises the city-dwelling Aston owner the exclusiveness and interior craftsmanship of other Astons, but in a much more traffic-friendly and fuel-efficient package. Its three-metre length is just about 30 cm longer than a Smart fortwo; the extra room going toward a back seat that includes a full-time rear seat behind the passenger's perch, plus an occasional jump seat behind the driver that folds down for when you spot (hopefully short) friends stranded in the rain.

No timing was announced for the Cygnet's arrival in North America, or even confirmation that it will reach here, although Detroit-based trade journal Automotive News reported last month that it would arrive in 2012; it also said an electric version was planned for 2013.

The two models will help Aston garner the fuel efficiency numbers needed to keep selling its much pricier and more exotic sports cars and Rapide V-12 sport sedan.

There was much scoffing at both the idea and the exterior looks of the little Toyota Scion iQ-based Cygnet at the concept's launch this year in Geneva. The black nostrils that look mean on high-performance Aston Martins take up about half the entire length of the Cygnet's wee bonnet. That stunted bodywork - a marked contrast to the curvaceously elongated bodies of Aston's V-8 and V-12 sports cars - covers a small 1.33-litre four-cylinder engine that drives the front wheels to the tune of about 97 hp, with an available CVT transmission.

So at least a manual will be available, with slightly more power than the upcoming Scion iQ (as it will be sold here) - or at least it was when it was shown as a concept, since Aston hasn't confirmed engine or transmission production specs yet.

Smart five-seat hatchback not coming to Canada

A five-seat Smart hatchback based on a subcompact Nissan platform has been announced for the United States but is not headed to Canada.

The Smart five-seater will be a subcompact vehicle smaller than the Versa, which reports have indicated will likely be derived from the Micra/March mini-car (sold in Europe and Japan, respectively). Unlike the earlier Smart forfour - the first Smart with a back seat that was sold in Europe - this would be a unique model for North America, and would provide some life support for the Smart brand in the U.S., where sales of the two-seat Smart have fallen off a cliff since it debuted late in 2008.

Smart USA says the new five-seat hatchback will arrive in the next 15 months, but a Mercedes-Benz Canada spokesperson confirmed this week it will be a U.S.-only product.

This is the opposite of how the launch of the Smart brand went in North America, where the fortwo was launched in Canada first in 2006, surpassing even Benz's rosiest popularity predictions. This helped cement Canada's reputation as small-car and Euro-friendly market, while helping to open American eyes to the potential acceptance of such a small vehicle on this continent.

The latest deal was announced by Penske Automotive Group as a "non-binding memorandum of understanding" between Daimler, Nissan and Penske, distributors of Smart cars in the U.S., and therefore subject to further approvals.

Mercedes-Benz and Smart parent Daimler AG joined the Nissan-Renault alliance in April, when the German company took a 3.1 per cent stake in both Nissan and Renault, while the Nissan-Renault alliance took a similar equity share in Daimler in a three-way stock swap.


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