October 8, 2008 Few would argue with the environmental and economic benefits of hybrid vehicles, but despite an avalanche of concept cars that utilize either hybrid or fully-electric drivetrains in recent times, the cost of actually buying one of the few models that have thus far made it to market remains prohibitively high. This situation is set to change rapidly over the next five years and Honda has fired one of the first shots in the expected hybrid price war with the unveiling of its new gasoline-electric Insight at the Paris Motor Show. The 'affordable family hybrid concept' is expected to be very close to the production version slated to hit the U.S. market next year at a price of under $20K, nudging out the Toyota Prius (USD$23K) as the cheapest hybrid on the market.
If you think you've heard the name before - you have. The moniker revives the name of the original Honda Insight coupe introduced in 1999 as the first gasoline-electric hybrid car sold in America. The 2009 version is a compact five-door, five-seater which takes its aerodynamic design cues from the more recent hydrogen-fuel cell powered FCX Clarity and is smaller than the Honda Civic Hybrid. The car will use the company's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system which uses a small gasoline engine at all times with supplementary power provided by a built-in electric motor. The IMA control unit and battery are mounted beneath the boot space in the new design to give the car a low centre of gravity and the carrying capacity of a powered hatchback.
There's no word as yet on fuel economy numbers or an exact price.
Honda aims to sell 200,000 Insights a year globally with around half of those in North America. The company says it has significantly reduced production costs for the IMA system and plans to add new line to its Suzuka factory in Japan, doubling the per hour production capacity to cope with the predicted sales figures. Overall, taking into account three other hybrid models being readied for market in coming years (a sporty hybrid based on CR-Z, a Jazz Hybrid and a new Civic Hybrid), Honda expects 10 percent of its worldwide sales (over 500,000) to be in the hybrid sector by 2010.