This October Honda released a name for their upcoming global hybrid compact, “The Insight.”
There has been much interest in the new Honda hybrid long before this announcement. Honda dealt with many rumors and confirmed it was a dedicated entry level hybrid. But as Honda began final testing the spy photos popped up online. The immediate reaction from automotive journalists and enthusiasts was the car appeared to be a copy of the Toyota Prius in shape and size. There is no denying the likeness and when pressed Honda claimed this was the pure coincidence of aerodynamic design.
While this can be debated the car’s shape has already been decided. But something that was also decided recently was the resurrection of the “Insight” badge for this global hybrid. Prior to this announcement, Honda released several online polls asking others what the car should be labeled and to our knowledge “Insight” was not one of them. A vocal bunch of Toyota enthusiasts have lovingly named this car the “Hindsight” which we are certain was not on the Honda shortlist either. But there is a good reason we are hung up on the name plate of this car. The original Insight launched as a 2000 model and was a proof of concept turned production. The car featured an all aluminum chassis, aluminum and plastic body panels and was one of the lightest production cars in the world. The emphasis on weight, aerodynamic and drag reduction were the key design philosophies.
Nearly 10 years later the original Insight remains the benchmark in fuel economy. Most of this magic was due to the 1.0L motor mated to a manual transmission that weighs less than most big screen TVs. Achieving almost 70MPG is unheard of in a production car even at the time of this writing. Back in 2000 these innovations were overlooked almost completely. Fuel costs were $1.30 a gallon in the USA and most of the market progressed toward SUVs or trucks. Interest in saving money on fuel was at the bottom of concerns for buyers up until late 2006.
The Insight certainly had many things going against it. Most of the complaints were about the 2 seat configuration. Given the climate towards large trucks during its production there is no doubt most people did not want a small car that could only hold 2 people. The other concern was cargo space, and despite it sharing the same cargo dimensions as the current generation Prius it was completely impractical during its lifespan.
Now that the original Insight is in the history books we move to present day where the automotive market is suffering major losses and the first feature mentioned by most car salesman is MPG. The SUV and truck market have washed up and the trend towards smaller cars has returned. This set the stage for a return of the Insight, a near perfect storyline. This time around Honda decided they actually needed to sell the Insight and make profit on it. Their solution is to price it in the upper end of the subcompact market. ($18,000-$19,000) Based on initial photos and limited specs provided by Honda this car will be built in Japan alongside the Civic Hybrid sharing the same engine and drive train, but both are installed in a completely new chassis.
So Honda has the perfect formula to get an affordable hybrid in the hands of consumers and really take a piece of this market away from Toyota. While that is good for Honda and the consumer as a whole we have to throw a monkey wrench into the entire thing.
Fuel efficiency, the benchmark of the original Insight, is not improved upon in the updated model. A projected 25% weight increase over the original Insight is probable. The new car will feature a steel chassis and components instead of aluminum approaching the weight of the 2009 Fit/Jazz. Additionally, the 2009 model also is void of a manual transmission, one of the things that made the original more involving. While we have great respect for the motor currently designated to the Honda Civic hybrid, why is there no inclusion of lean burn technology? Was it axed due to emission system issues or just abandoned as manual transmissions disappeared from Honda hybrids?
We would like to see a response from Sage Marie of American Honda about these issues.
We would also like to address a few things car enthusiasts all over forums and blogs pointed out as counter points to our concerns.
Improvements in safety, comfort and occupancy upgrades are more important than having the best MPG possible.
Having the ability to carry 3-4 passengers makes the MPG issue between the new and old Insight a wash.
An affordable hybrid gets new buyers and markets interested in hybrids. The result is good for the economy, Honda, and the environment.
The original Insight appeals to a niche or limited market.
These comments are all very forward and positive ways of looking at this new model.
Unfortunately we believe this is a fundamental step backwards in the automotive world. During the late 90s and early in the decade when trucks and SUVs dominated, the hybrid car was often laughed at by the general population as being ugly and silly. A majority of that same market is now completely interested in hybrids or fuel efficient cars for the first time, as if these cars were brand new and ground breaking. This is the mass market that does not understand the difference between getting 50MPG and 70MPG. Anything better than 30MPG is a big leap for that group. But what about the segment who thought getting 60-70MPG from petrol powered engine was only the beginning almost 10 years ago?
Viral marketing helped generate massive profits from truck and SUVs sales. Almost every manufacturer was in on the game. The luxury of an SUV, as marketed at every consumer automotive show, was proof positive that the foresight to continue developing cars like the original Insight had vanished.
Today the sad truth is that the new Insight is really a step backwards from what the original set out to accomplish. We can only hope in 2020 we are not re-publishing this same article.