Hybrid will be smaller, more affordable than Civic
TORRANCE, Calif. -- Honda announced plans today to introduce a new hybrid vehicle in 2009, replacing the aging Insight two-seater – which will end production this September. Honda officials report that the new hybrid will be smaller and more affordable than the current Civic model. Though Honda officials would not comment directly, it’s clear that the company’s goal for the new hybrid is to offer best-in-class fuel economy. Built in Suzuka, Japan, the vehicle will be a dedicated hybrid based on a new global platform, meaning that Honda will not shoehorn a hybrid powertrain into an existing vehicle. Honda officials expect worldwide sales to reach 200,000 -- with 100,000 sales coming from North America. The Insight debuted in 1999 as a 2000 model, and was the first mainstream hybrid vehicle sold in America. Since then, competition has grown considerably, but the Insight remains the highest mileage car for sale, registering 60/66 city and highway miles per gallon from it’s three-cylinder, 73-horsepower engine. Its beetle shape and diminutive size made the Insight a unique car in a world of eight-passenger vehicles and oversized trucks. The announcement debunks speculation about the debut of a Honda Fit Hybrid in 2007. Earlier this year, the Japanese newspaper reported that a hybrid Fit would be sold in the US for under $20,000, making it the least expensive hybrid available and giving Honda a lower-priced and more fuel-efficient vehicle than what Toyota currently offers, thus sparking a subcompact hybrid war between automakers.
We got the wrong car, as it turns out, but the right idea. The new Honda hybrid is NOT fit for the Fit. Which brings up an interesting point: with gas prices floating upward, the image of the Insight -- the first and highest mileage mainstream hybrid car in America – would be a mighty powerful name for a new hatchback or sedan hybrid model that seats four and has plenty of room. The similarities between this new hybrid and the Insight are uncanny: Built in Suzuka, Japan, just like the Insight, designed to be small and affordable, just like the Insight, and meant to achieve the best fuel economy on the road…just like the Insight. One way this new hybrid had better be different, of course, is in the refinement and convenience of the vehicle. Where the Insight is pretty much an exercise in fuel economy one-upmanship, the new Honda hybrid will have to be considerably more than that: more powerful than the 73-horsepower Insight, with room for four and subcompact-level cargo room. The interior will need to be quiet, and the ride also on par with a subcompact – with better acceleration. And one more thing: the car should be cleaner, with a PZEV-level emissions rating. If you’re gonna buy a hybrid – why not get the hybrid benefit? Do all of that, and the car will likely be a huge success – unless gas prices plunge back to $1.50 a gallon... Yeah – right. But just in case you’re thinking that Honda will be alone in this new small-car hybrid development, think again: rumors swirl about a Hyundai Accent hybrid. They just need to get the boss out of jail long enough to sign off on the plans…
Photos courtesy of American Honda