That's the hype from Honda . . .
Costing just shy of $20,000, the Honda Insight promises to let drivers respond to both of the leading crises of our day: the environment and the recession.
If the Insight’s introduction in Japan is any indication, Toyota should be worried. The car went on sale here on Feb. 6, and orders have soared, reaching 18,000 in just the first three weeks — topping Prius’s current sales. In fact, the Insight pushed Prius out of the top-10-selling cars for February.
“I have people asking about hybrids that I never had before,” said Tsuguhito Tokita, a Honda dealer in Tokyo. “With this price, it’s easy to recommend to anyone.”
If Honda makes inroads in the United States, the world’s largest market for hybrids, it could force the market leader, the Toyota Motor Corporation, to bring down its prices. Japanese news media have reported that Toyota, which controls 70 percent of the American hybrid market, will introduce a cheaper hybrid model with a smaller engine in 2011 — in part, reportedly, because of the Insight’s success.
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Instead of the more complicated hybrid system used in the Prius, the Insight’s main source of power is a lightweight gasoline engine that is assisted by smaller batteries. That greatly reduces manufacturing costs, but gives the Insight lower fuel efficiency than the Prius — 43 miles per gallon on the highway compared with 45 miles per gallon for the Prius. The Insight also shares parts with other Honda models, which helps the carmaker keep costs to a minimum.
Honda has also struck a chord with an overhaul of the car’s shape. One reason its previous hybrids failed to take off, analysts say, was that they did not come in distinctive shapes.
“A lot of people who drive hybrids want to make the statement, ‘I am driving a hybrid,’ “ Mr. Richter said.
But Honda’s new Insight looks remarkably like — well, Toyota’s triangular Prius, which has become synonymous with hybrid technology. Analysts say that should help sales.