Honda's hybrid Insight due by April

Honda unveiled its next-generation hybrid, the Insight, at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday and said the car will arrive in U.S. showrooms this April.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

DETROIT–Honda unveiled its next-generation hybrid, the Insight, at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday and said the car will arrive in U.S. showrooms this April.

Honda’s much-anticipated car is expected to compete head-on with Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius, which remains the top-selling hybrid in the U.S. Toyota is set to debut its next-generation Prius on Monday, along with a Lexus hybrid on Sunday called the HS250h.

Honda said the 2010 Insight will have a lower price than the Civic Hybrid, which has a base price of $23,650 in the U.S.

“With the introduction of the all-new Insight, we’re opening up Honda’s fun-to-drive, versatile and fuel-efficient hybrid technology to an entirely new group of buyers that previously may not have considered a hybrid because of either image or cost,” John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda, said in a statement.

The Insight, a five-door sedan, is modeled after Honda’s FCX Clarity fuel-cell car, the Japanese automaker said.

It said the Environmental Protection Agency rates the Insight’s fuel economy at 40 city miles per (U.S.) gallon (5.9 L/100 km) and 43 on the highway (5.4 L/100 km). The EPA certifies the Prius at 48 city mpg (4.9 L/100 km) and 45 on the highway (5.2 L/100 km).

Honda said the Insight will feature an onboard system, dubbed Eco Assist, designed to help drivers improve their fuel economy during trips. The system will have a color-coded speedometer display that gives drivers feedback on current fuel economy, and a function that gauges the car’s fuel economy during a trip and for the car’s lifetime.

The Insight will have 10-kilowatt electric motor and a 10.6 U.S. gallon fuel tank, and Honda estimates its driving range at more than 400 miles (640 km).

Honda’s debut of the Insight comes as hybrid sales have tumbled. The gas-electric cars sold briskly during the run-up in gas prices last summer but have since come down sharply as fuel prices collapsed. The auto website reported that hybrid sales fell 43 per cent in December and 50 per cent in November. Sales of Honda’s Civic hybrid fell an even larger 68 per cent last month.

“It’s not the best timing,” said Seki, who agreed with Honda CEO Takeo Fukui’s view that reaching the Insight’s global sales target of 200,000 units a year might be tough.

Seki said that for hybrids to be a “no-brainer” for consumers looking to save at the pump, a technological breakthrough was needed to improve the hybrid system.

That meant, for example, halving the system’s cost, now mostly tied to the battery, or getting more output from the same number of battery modules, he said.

Honda roughly halved the cost of the system for the new Insight, which is due to be followed by a family of affordable gasoline-electric cars including a compact sports car, the Fit subcompact, a next-generation Civic hybrid, and others.

Despite the tough sales conditions and cheaper gasoline, Seki said the consumer trend towards fuel-efficient vehicles was solid in the long-run given the exhaustible supply of fossil fuels.

“In Japan, gasoline prices have fallen to about half their peak, and yet a lot of gasoline stands are folding and demand isn’t returning,” he said. “I think that’s based on consumers’ belief that eventually, gasoline prices will rise again, and in that respect they would be looking for fuel efficiency.”

With files from Reuters News Agency

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