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First look: Honda's answer to Prius is in sight

Bargain: Second-generation Insight hybrid hatch could be priced under $30,000.

Due at Paris in concept form, Honda's MkII Insight takes aim at iconic Toyota Prius

5 Sep 2008

HONDA plans to topple Toyota’s wildly popular Prius with the second-generation Insight.

A thinly disguised ‘concept’ will form the centrepiece of the Japanese company’s Paris motor show display in early October, as Honda prepares the production version of its all-new hybrid family car for release in Japan and North America from April next year.

Pundits are predicting the production car will be launched at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.

Australia will figure prominently in the new Insight’s plans when it arrives in the latter half of 2009.

Reports suggest that Honda is gearing up to sell at least 200,000 units each year worldwide, with 100,000 slated for North American consumption. This total production figure is four times the number of Civic Hybrids currently made.

To help reach its sales goals, an aggressive pricing policy worldwide by Honda will see the Insight II positioned significantly beneath the current Prius’ $37,400 pricetag in Australia.

Some overseas reports suggest that the Honda may undercut the Toyota by as much as 30 per cent, placing the entry-level Insight II well beneath the $30,000 mark.

If this were the case, it would also be much cheaper than Honda’s existing (and continuing) Civic Hybrid sedan, which retails from $32,990.

Last month Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley indicated to GoAuto that achieving groundbreaking pricing was high on the company’s agenda.

“If it comes in, it needs to clearly sit around that sub-Civic range,” said Mr Smalley said.

“Within that context, you could probably sell lots and lots, if you can get supply.” However, the next-generation Prius is poised to spoil the Insight II’s party once it is unveiled late this year or in early 2009, and Toyota is expected to offer this car in a much wider range of styles and variants, including a cut-price version to take on cheaper rivals like the Honda.

15 center imageMuch of the Insight II’s technical details are still a mystery, but we do understand that new production techniques instigated at Honda’s Suzuka facility in Japan have brought better economies of scale to help keep the price down.

As with the original Insight, a sub-1.5-litre petrol engine will work in conjunction with an electric motor to provide extra power during acceleration.

Whether the Insight II can also run purely on electric power is still unknown, as is whether a plug-in model to recharge using mains power will become available.

A much smaller battery pack than what we have seen in the current crop of hybrid vehicles will be utilised, mounted lower down for a much more beneficial centre of gravity, to bring significant driveability and packaging benefits.

Honda has also incorporated a special device that helps drivers improve their techniques in order to preserve fuel.

Despite what the photos suggest, the Insight II is actually smaller than the current Civic Hybrid, and sits on a completely new front-wheel drive platform.

With a five-seat configuration, the body possesses similar styling cues to the Prius, and also pays lip service to the Honda FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle, thanks to its five-door design.

"The original Honda Insight pioneered hybrid technology in the US and remains a symbol of Honda's commitment to innovative technology and fuel efficiency," said Takeo Fukui, chief executive officer of Honda Motor Company.

"This new Insight will break new ground as an affordable hybrid within the reach of customers who want great fuel economy and great value." The Insight II is just the tip of the iceberg, with Honda also set to introduce a three-door variation in the shape of the CR-Z concept car that stole the Tokyo motor show last year.

This will be in the vein of the long-gone (and lamented) CR-X two-seater coupe, with an emphasis on sportiness, driving pleasure and style.

A hybrid version of the just-released second-generation Jazz is also on the cards from about 2010, although there is no confirmation of when – rather than if – Australian light-car buyers will be able to buy one.

All up, Honda is striving to sell about 500,000 hybrids worldwide within the next three years, with more models in the pipeline.

With around 17,000 produced, the last Insight was actually the first petrol-electric hybrid vehicle sold in Australia, North America and Europe, even though the revolutionary Prius beat it to market in Japan by two years in late 1997.

However, from the Insight’s March 2001 launch in Melbourne, it was hamstrung with extremely high pricing ($48,900 plus on-roads), a two-seater cabin, shallow load area, oddball styling, a tiny engine and a (five-speed) manual-only gearbox.

Under the bonnet was a 56kW/113Nm 1.0-litre lean-burn VTEC three-cylinder petrol engine that worked in conjunction with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system consisting of a brushless DC electric motor.

Aided by a production car-leading aerodynamic figure of 0.25 Cd and a flyweight 827kg overall mass, the aluminium alloy-bodied hatch was capable of achieving just 2.8 litres per 100km on the highway cycle, 3.6L/100km in city driving, and as little as 80g/km of carbon dioxide emissions.

But with petrol prices at nearly half of what they are today, Australians did not care for such things, and just 45 Insights found homes according to the VFACTS tally.

On the other hand, with the current fuel crisis just over a year away when sales were discontinued in Australia in June 2004, the eco Honda was also well ahead of its time. Production ceased in 2006.

Read more:

Honda shrinks to grow

Dedicated Honda hybrid to imitate Prius

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Honda confirms next hybrid for 2009

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