RIP, Honda Insight…Again

2009 Honda Insight.

In 1999, the Honda Insight hybrid, a two-seater hatchback then, was introduced to the world. In 2006, it was shelved. Two years later, it was reintroduced to the market as a five-seater hatchback. This year, the Insight has again been scrapped from Honda’s lineup, after coming up second as the automaker’s worst selling car (after the CR-Z hybrid).

Unfortunately for Honda, the Toyota Prius was launched seven months after the first Insight, and we all know that the Prius is almost synonymous with hybrid car. By the end of last year, Toyota had sold almost 3.2 million units of the Prius while Honda had managed sales of a mere 280 629 units of the Insight, mostly in Japan where sales also plunged last year.

Honda has been going about it rather quietly last month, first pulling it out of the European market and then the US (which was announced in a rather matter-of-fact way as a single line hidden in an otherwise unnecessary press release), but dealers were apparently told to cease taking orders since last November.

No one quite knows why sales of the Insight is so dismal. It was the first hybrid made available to the masses (but the Prius later diverged into more variants, including the Prius plug-in hybrid, the Prius V hatchback wagon and the Prius C, a smaller and cheaper version). The Insight is often praised for smooth handling and control and has a decent 42mpg EPA rating (although the Prius has a 50mpg EPA rating). Price-wise, its slightly below USD20 000 price tag makes it one of the cheapest hybrid vehicles around (although the Prius C is also available at about the same price). The interior is cosy with a multi-information display to help the driver maximise their fuel saving (but the Prius is evidently more spacious and can sit five much more comfortably…okay, so maybe it is obvious why the Prius is by far the more popular choice).

Meanwhile, despite a long list of potential customers for the Honda Fit electric vehicle, the automaker decided to axe the model this year too. Are these indications that Honda sees no future in hybrid and electric vehicles? Last year, Honda signed an agreement with General Motors to co-develop the next generation of fuel cell and hydrogen storage technologies. Honda’s fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, is currently available on lease in very limited numbers (rumoured to be only 50 in the US) but the automaker plans to make it available to the mass market by 2018. So for this Japanese automaker it seems, the way forward is hydrogen.


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