Honda's Hybrid: The Insight's Coming in 2009

Honda has released photos and more tidbits about its highly anticipated Insight hybrid, the so-called Prius-killer. Some have criticized the vehicles design, and most have rightfully pointed out that the new Insight bares more than a passing resemblance to Toyota’s industry leading Prius.

OK, so copycat looks are one of the downsides, are there any upsides? Yep — $3,000 more of an upside compared to the Toyota Prius. The Honda Insight’s is supposed to be priced around $18,000, which is around $3,000 less than the Toyota Prius. Getting cars into the sub-$20,000 range is an important psychological barrier for budget-minded consumers.

There is also the very viable argument that selling more, cheaper hybrids is better for the environment then selling fewer, higher-priced hybrids. And since Honda is planning to sell 200,000 of the new Insights a year worldwide, and plans to sell 500,000 copies of various hybrid models total, that could be a significant positive impact.

For those interested in the nuts and bolts on how the new Honda works, it’s actually fairly straight forward for a hybrid. The new Insight uses an updated version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid technology, the same system used in Honda’s current Civic hybrid. There’s an electric motor mounted between the engine and transmission that acts as a starter motor, engine balancer and traction-motor assist.

And yes, this is the second Insight that Honda has made. Back in 2000 to 2006, Honda made a two-seat Insight, a cute, if blobby, little car that was more of a proof of concept of Honda’s hybrid systems. The company decided to use the same name for the sake of continuity.

The new version, expected in Honda show rooms by 2009, is about as practical as a Honda can be. It’s a five-door hatchback, seats four in comfort, five in a pinch, and has all the fold-down seats, storage cubbies and the like that modern consumers expect from industry leaders like Honda. So in a real world usability sense, there should be little if anything to fault about the car.

It will probably be a winner for Honda, although only time will tell if it will be able to knock the Prius off the top of the hybrid mountain, but hey, 200,000 of them running around will be a 200,000 steps in the right direction.

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