Honda Primes the Hybrid Pump

Taking aim at Toyota, Honda readies a new hybrid car for the mainstream market.

Published: 09-Jan-2007

Jan. 8, 2007 - Falling gas prices have taken some of the steam out of hybrid car sales lately. But you wouldn’t know that from all the buzz about hybrids at the opening day of the Detroit Auto Show. First, GM introduced its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid concept. And then Honda CEO Takeo Fukui revealed in an interview with NEWSWEEK that his company is developing an all-new small hybrid car that he described as a five-passenger version of its quirky two-seater, the Insight gas-electric car. But unlike the Insight, which sells in small numbers to die-hard greenies, Fukui says this new Honda hybrid will be aimed at mainstream car buyers when it hits the road in two or three years. “Hybrid technology is very strong and proven technology for improving fuel economy,” he says. “And we won’t relent in our efforts.”

For Honda, this new hybrid could finally be the answer to the megawatt popularity of the Toyota Prius, which controls more than half the market for hybrids in the U.S. Even though the Honda Insight was the first hybrid on the U.S. market when it launched in 1998, the Prius, with its larva shape and 60 miles per gallon fuel economy, has come to define hybrids in America. Unlike the cramped little Insight, the Prius offers the five-passenger spaciousness of a Camry, with gas mileage better than its smaller sibling, the Toyota Corolla. By contrast, Honda’s hybrid version of its five-seat Accord model flopped in the market, Fukui admitted, because it didn’t deliver the good fuel economy hybrid buyers expected. Lately, though, sales of all hybrids have slowed as gas prices have fallen back toward $2 a gallon.

Honda’s new hybrid, though, won’t be a version of anything else in its lineup. Instead, like the Prius, Honda’s new hybrid will have its own design from the wheels up. “We can envision something close to the Insight with five-passenger capacity and a relatively low price for mass-market consumers,” says Fukui.

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