The original Honda Insight, which broke the fuel economy barrier with 70 miles per gallon on the highway, certainly made a splash when it appeared on American roads back in 1999.
Although the Insight was the first hybrid for sale in the U.S., beating out the Toyota Prius, its one-liter engine, limited seating, relatively rough ride and bare-bones accommodations kept it a niche vehicle. The aluminum-bodied car was super-light, less than 2,000 pounds, but the weight advantage also made is susceptible to crosswinds. I remember driving one over a bridge and fighting the wheel to keep it in line. I liked it, though.
Honda's Insight concept car: a Prius fighter.
But now the Honda Insight is back as an approximately $18,000 five-passenger hatchback Prius fighter, and it's much better looking this time (sharing styling with the company's sleek FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell car). The platform is all new for Honda, with the battery pack and controller safely tucked away below the cargo area. As with the earlier Insight and Civic Hybrid, the new generation of the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system runs mainly on the gas engine and uses the electric motor as a booster.
Honda has huge ambitions for new Insight sales, anticipating a not-impossible 100,000 a year in North America (half of the worldwide sales). This carmaker has some clean car bragging rights. It introduced the first low-emission gasoline vehicles, the first hybrid on the U.S. market and the world's first EPA-certified hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.
Honda spokesman Chris Naughton says the new Insight will be at the Paris Auto Show, which starts October 4, though there's no guarantee more information will be forthcoming even then. "There's not much information out there, and much of what's being said is speculation," Naughton says. "Though it could be considered sound speculation if you report that the IMA system will have an evolutionary design."
The price is also speculative, but Naughton makes it clear that Honda is going after the Prius with a price "that will attract a new generation of buyers."
Toyota's iQ: maybe a plug-in hybrid?
Also confirmed, though without a time frame or confirmation of which world markets are involved, is a new hybrid version of the tiny Fit subcompact. That one should be a real barn burner: an extremely versatile, fun-to-drive runabout with (one speculates) about 50 mpg or more on the highway.
And Toyota may be right behind with not only an all-new Prius (to be shown in Detroit next year), but a Smart-sized plug-in hybrid version of the minuscule iQ, which could hit the magic 100 mpg.
American carmakers, wake up! Yes, GM has the Volt and Saturn Vue plug-in cars, but with this competition they'll have to be very good indeed.
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