Honda rolls out its own hybrid

PARIS, FRANCE - Honda issued its challenge to the Toyota Prius, introducing the Insight hybrid at the Paris Motor Show.

“Honda is committed to taking a leadership role in hybrid technology,” said Sage Marie, an American Honda spokesman here.

The Insight is the first of three dedicated hybrid models that Honda will introduce over the next four years. In addition to the Insight, which will go on sale in Europe, Japan and the United States next spring, the company plans a hybrid sports car derived from the CR-Z concept, also being shown here, and a hybrid version of the Fit and Jazz compacts.

Honda executives said privately that the company had re-evaluated its strategy of producing hybrid versions of its existing models, like the Civic and Accord, and decided that dedicated models, like the Prius, were more likely to be successful in the marketplace.

That led to the Insight, one of the most highly anticipated introductions at this yearÂ’s Paris show.

Fuel-mileage figures were not announced, Mr. Marie said, because fuel economy testing has not been completed in the United States. But he said Insight, powered by the same gasoline engine with an electric motor that is in the Civic Hybrid, should have comparable fuel economy. The latest model Civic Hybrid gets about 40 miles a gallon in the city, compared with about 48 for the Prius.

Insight is expected to clearly outperform Prius on price, although that was not announced here, either. Takeo Fukui, the chief executive of the Honda Motor Company, said Insight would be priced attractively enough to bring its ambitious annual worldwide sales goal of 200,000 units within reach.

“This new Insight will break new ground,” Mr. Fukui said, “by providing an affordable hybrid to an expanded number of customers craving great fuel economy and great value.”

The Insight, while the size and shape of the Prius, borrows many styling cues from HondaÂ’s FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, which is already being leased to a select number of American customers. HondaÂ’s only other current hybrid vehicle, the Civic Hybrid, will receive a facelift next year to help differentiate it from the Insight.

The Insight name was previously used by Honda for a 66-mile-per-gallon gasoline-hybrid electric vehicle introduced in 1999, but it was discontinued two years ago because of weak sales. That Insight had seating for only two people and no trunk. The new Insight comes in a five-door hatchback configuration with seating for five people.


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