Honda revives Insight to take on Prius

Honda will revive the Insight name when it introduces a hybrid concept next month at the Paris Auto Show that the company says will be the least-expensive gas-electric hybrid on the market when it reaches dealers next spring.

The original two-seat Insight was only available in North America for the 2000 to 2006 model years — but it was always the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road, and would still be if sold today, averaging official U.S. EPA numbers as high as 70 miles/gallon, or 3.4 L/100 km in city driving.

Yet the first Insight is a textbook example of the risks of letting an engineering focus drive an automobile project: in their zealous drive to remove weight and become the most fuel-efficient mass produced car on the planet, Honda gave it a tight two-seat interior, zero cargo room, a manual-only transmission at its debut, and truly bizarre rear wheel-covering bodywork that screamed "I'd rather save fuel than worry about style."

Unfortunately for Honda, both gas prices and sales of hybrid vehicles took off soon after the Insight left the market, and now Honda is playing catch up to Toyota, and in some respects GM, for the green car crown.

Its Civic Hybrid is now the lowest-priced hybrid on the market — its $26,350 MSRP comes in slightly less than the mid-size Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.

It's the new Insight's low price that Honda is betting will help it achieve its aggressive 100,000-unit-a-year sales goal in North America, or about half the projected 2008 sales of the market-leading Toyota Prius, which starts at $27,400 for 2009, a price that has dropped by about $2,000 since last fall.

The Honda Insight concept will showcase a much more consumer-friendly vehicle, with a five-door, five-seat hatchback body shaped very much like the Prius.

Not only will the Insight sport a lower-cost version of its Integrated Motor Assist hybrid technology, it will also offer a system to guide drivers to more fuel-efficient driving practices.

The second-generation Insight will become the Toyota Prius' only true hybrid competitor, at least until later in the summer of 2009, when Honda plans to introduce the CR-Z Hybrid as a lightweight two-door coupe.

Article Information

  • Source: Globe and Mail
  • Date Posted: September 11, 2008