It's fascinating to watch Honda's hybrid strategy unfold. I have been, for years, predicting that Honda would "hybridize" its best-selling Fit hatchback. And that's finally likely to happen. But Honda is also planning something rather better: It's finally coming out with a ground-up, clean-sheet-of-paper Prius-killer.
The two generations of the Toyota Prius have sold an incredible 757,000 (630,000 of them 2004 and beyond). Honda has sold only 277,000 hybrids total, despite being first out of the gate in the U.S. (1999) with the two-seater Insight. Although the Insight was a dedicated hybrid like the Prius, its limited seating and bare-bones accommodations turned off many buyers.
But Honda will introduce an all-new model in calendar year 2009 that, according to spokesman Chris Naughton, will be "on a platform not shared with any other model, in other words, not available in non-hybrid form."
As Naughton puts it, the Insight "made a few people very happy." The new model could make a lot of people very happy, and get the company a long way to its goal of 500,000 hybrid sales a year. It will probably be a five-door hatchback smaller than the current Prius, and sell for less-around $18,000, reports Business Week. The U.S., Japan and Europe are targeted.
Honda President Takeo Fukui acknowledged in a recent mea culpa (May 21 in Tokyo) that Toyota has had the better hybrid strategy. But he plans to remedy that aggressively, not only with the new car for 2009 but also the long-denied hybrid version of the Fit (which would get what, 50 mpg?) and even a hybrid sports car, the CR-Z.
Toyota has made so much money off the current Prius that it will wait until 2011 to unveil the third generation, reportedly slightly bigger, with better fuel economy and more storage. There might be more than one new Prius model, too. You can expect that the new car (or cars) will be a big leap forward, and that Toyota intends to remain very competitive.
Fukui says he expects his new Honda cars to be players in this suddenly important market. "Various technologies, including a function to assist more fuel-efficient driving, are being installed to achieve a further improvement of practical fuel efficiency, so that customers can actually experience the excellent fuel efficiency of this vehicle," he said.
OK, so the English isn't all that clear, but I'm betting this all-new Honda will be crystal clear to a market just waiting for cool new hybrid cars.
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