After letting Toyota dominate the U.S. hybrid market for the last decade or so, Honda is finally striking back with their new Insight, announced in concept form last week before its official unveiling October 2nd at the Paris Auto Show.
Honda says the Insight will go on sale on Earth Day 2009 (that’s April 22, for those of you with last names other than Gore). More importantly, they say it will be priced significantly cheaper than other hybrid cars on the market today, thanks in part due to revised (i.e. cheaper) hybrid technology.
However, don’t expect the car to do everything for you; among the snazzy features Honda lists (like folding rear seats!) is “a function to assist customers in achieving more fuel efficient driving habits.” (Don’t be surprised if it’s just a small light on the dashboard that blinks nervously if you use more than 50 percent of the throttle.)
This isn’t Honda’s first foray into the hybrid market; it already sells the Civic Hybrid here, and the last generation Accord featured a hybrid model that nonsensically strapped a tiny electric motor to the larger V-6 engine. From 1999 to 2006, however, the company also sold the first-generation Insight, a tiny two-seater that could get 70 miles per gallon, far better than the first generation of Toyota Prius it was competing with; however, the Insight never sold as well as the Prius – partly because the Prius had twice as many seats, and party because the Insight looked like the top half of a Viagra capsule.
Judging by the looks of the car, it’s pretty obvious Honda’s hoping to steal some Prius buyers by making it so hard for them to tell the cars apart they’ll climb into an Insight by accident and find themselves impressed with the fit and finish. I’m sort of disappointed by the looks of it, to be honest; Honda had a chance to make a car that was cheaper and better looking than its competitor, but chose to go the conservative route. It’s especially sad considering Honda claims the Insight’s styling was inspired by the hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity sedan (a car harder to get into than Jessica Biel’s pants), which happens to look much, much better.
(Also pictured in the publicity shot with the new Insight and FCX Clarity is the CR-Z concept, a lightweight sports cars with a hybrid drive-train that might sell for around $20,000 if it ever goes on sale in the states. See it better at the bottom.)
Car and Driver estimates the Insight will go on sale for around $19,000, undercutting the Prius by three grand or so; it wouldn’t surprise me if they manage to bring the price down a little lower than that, even. Honda modestly hopes to sell 200,000 of them a year, half of that in North America, but don’t be surprised if they manage to sell quite a few more – especially if the production version looks a little more streamlined, and if it keeps some of the driving fun that makes Honda the poor man’s BMW.
Welcome back to the serious hybrid game, Honda. Now how about that CR-Z?