Advertisement

Honda and Scion Struggle Seeking Small-Hybrid Sweet Spot

 
Follow John

2010 Honda Insight - front three-quarter

2010 Honda Insight - front three-quarter

Enlarge Photo

Before either car launched, the 2010 Toyota Prius and 2010 Honda Insight were viewed as natural rivals. Would the third generation of Toyota's definitive hybrid be threatened by Honda's "least expensive hybrid", which too offered five doors and good gas mileage?

What a difference a year makes.

The 2010 Toyota Prius

The 2010 Toyota Prius

Enlarge Photo

2011 Honda CR-Z launch, Detroit Auto Show, January 2010

2011 Honda CR-Z launch, Detroit Auto Show, January 2010

Enlarge Photo

2011 Honda CR-Z

2011 Honda CR-Z

Enlarge Photo

2010 scion iq concept 026

2010 scion iq concept 026

Enlarge Photo

Ford's Nancy Gioia at 2008 Detroit Auto Show

Ford's Nancy Gioia at 2008 Detroit Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid

Enlarge Photo

Prius romps, Insight craters

The 2010 Prius was a smash hit. Its global sales success strained Toyota and caused shortages of nickel-metal-hydride battery packs. Of 270,000 sales to date, about 140,000 came from the United States. Its nemesis proved to be not Honda, but high-tech braking software.

The 2010 Insight, meanwhile, fell woefully short. Reviewers who wanted to like it were put off by its lack of power, tinny feel, and cramped rear seat. Looking at 2009's green-car winners and losers, the Insight falls into the "Loser" column.

Honda hoped to sell more than 50,000 Insights in the U.S., but sales from March through December 2009 were a mere 20,500. Globally, sales of the 2010 Honda Insight totaled 130,000 during 2009, substantially less than its early goal of 200,000.

Honda: Just too small

Now Honda Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo has admitted to Bloomberg, "I think we compromised too much on size in pursuing fuel efficiency" in its first dedicated four-seat hybrid for the U.S. market.

Honda just launched its 2011 CR-Z hybrid sports coupe at last month's Detroit Auto Show, a tiny two-seater built on the Insight platform but using a larger 1.5-liter engine with the Insight's 10-hp electric motor, for combined peak output of 122 horsepower.

But the CR-Z is not top of the heap either in fuel economy (36 mpg city, 38 mpg highway projected with the CVT) or performance (a Japanese road test achieved 0 to 62 mph in 9.7 seconds).

"Struggling" with Fit Hybrid

And Kondo said his engineers are "really struggling" with the upcoming 2012 Honda Fit Hybrid, the third in what was expected to be a trio of new Honda hybrids. That car is expected to launch late this year.

The similarly sized 2010 Insight starts at $19,800, but the versatile five-door 2010 Fit, which starts at $14,900, is already rated to 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway. How much more could a hybrid add--and at what cost?

Hybrids not about mileage?

This all points out the anomaly of hybrid sales in the U.S.: While they're bought because of their gas mileage, that's far from the sole reason drivers want them.  And price apparently isn't much of an issue; studies show the Prius is often bought instead of a luxury car.

So did Honda aim at the wrong target by building the Insight specifically to be the lowest-priced hybrid? Or is a small car just a more challenging package in which to pack a battery pack, an electric motor, a slew of extra electronics, and so forth?

Too pricey for Scion

One answer can be found in Scion, Toyota's smallest, youngest, and hippest U.S. brand, which aims to keep its base prices well below $20,000. Scion vice president Jack Hollis told Ward's Auto that hybrids were simply too expensive for that brand's buyers.

While he expects hybrids to arrive in the Scion lineup over the longer term, he dismissed notions that a recent smaller hybrid concept car--Toyota's FT-CH--would become a Scion. Instead, it's likely to become a smaller entry in an expanded family of Prius models.

Instead, the brand's next model is likely to be the 2011 Scion iQ mini-car, a far less expensive entry with a conventional gasoline engine.

Hybrid = electric running?

In the end, it may be that buyers agree with Ford's global electrification director, Nancy Gioia, who told GreenCarReports.com the company believes, "Consumers place a premium on the ability to drive at least a little bit in all-electric mode."

In other words, hybrid buyers love the high gas mileage, but many aren't buying them for the payback but for the statement they make. And, they want--and can afford--bigger, better-equipped hybrids that include features like all-electric running as differentiating factors.

Tell us what you think!

If you're a hybrid owner already, or thinking of buying one, why buy a hybrid? What kind of car are you looking for?

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

[Bloomberg via Autoblog, Inside LineWard's Auto]



Advertisement
 
Follow Us

 

Have an opinion?

  • Posting indicates you have read this site's Privacy Policy and Terms of Use
  • Notify me when there are more comments
Comments (12)
  1. I have a used 2000 Honda Insight. I think its a fun little car. I would not have paid the $21,000 asking price for it when it was new. I just don't think it is worth it. I think Honda should do with the Fit, what Toyota does with the Yaris. Optimal Drive. Tweek the aerodynamics. Lighten the car up if possible. 6 speed overdrive manual transmission. Stop/start technology. LRR tires. Minimal options to decrease weight and cost. Ought to be good for 12-15 better mileage than the current Fit and not cost any more. Kind of like what we had with the old CRX. HF, Standard, and Si.
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  2. previous post meant to say 12-15% better mileage.
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  3. previous post meant to say 12-15%
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  4. I drive a Ford Fusion Hybrid. I bought it because I drive a lot (25K miles per year), want to have some security if gas prices go back up, want to save gas regardless for the environment, and passed up on either a Prius or an Insight because I didn't feel safe in them. So far, the Fusion Hybrid has been wonderful because it is not only a gas saver -- it is a great car, period, whether you're comparing it to other hybrids or non-hybrids.
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  5. Looking in to the future when they make maybe 30% of all vehicles on the road. Even though it costs just few dollars to recharge now. But we can imagine when few 100000 battery operated vehicles are plugged in at the same time after 6pm what kind of strain it will cause to our power grid and power stations. How many people will end up with dead batteries in their vehicles. When there was an over night gray-out or power failure. Leaving work at last minute, drop off the kids. We all know what kind havoc dead car(s) on the highway causes. Mix into it skipped vehicle services, because of costs and a mechanic that is unfamiliar with a complex mechanics. Even now it is an unpleasant surprise. There's no way that cost of charging the electric vehicle will stay low. I would not be surprised if it will cost same as filling a gas tank 2 or 4 times a month.
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  6. @Old Impala: Actually, the question of whether electric cars will endanger the grid as they start to plug in for recharging has pretty much been answered: No.
    There's a very nice study by EPRI and NRDC, covered here:
    http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/the-smarter-grid/how-green-is-my-plugin/0
    Relevant quotes: "... in the near future electric cars will impose a very small load on the grid. If projections by GM’s Bob Lutz are accurate, some 60 000 new Chevy Volts will hit the road in 2012. In the most optimistic scenario, other makers will add perhaps three times that number. The load of one car being recharged overnight (about 2 kilowatts) is roughly that of four or five plasma TVs. Adding the load of a million plasma TVs to the entire U.S. grid—at 2 a.m.—won’t lose utility executives any sleep. Far from it—the prospect of additional demand at precisely the time when they can most easily meet it would make them very happy.
    "Not surprisingly, the EPRI-NRDC analysis found that plug-in vehicles won’t strain the grid. Earlier, less-nuanced studies from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory came to essentially the same conclusions."
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  7. This two cars are almost the same. They are like Clones.
    And I really do not understand why so much complication. They need to start to produce cheap and affordable electric cars.
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  8. I am glad that you were able to share this post, it reflects a lot of what I heard and have experienced with hybrids. Everyone seems to agree that less pollution is a good thing, but very few are willing to sacrifice for that thought. In America, price and comfort take a front seat to eco-friendly ideas for most.
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  9. I have a 2010 Insight that I bought last April. I have a 40 minute commute to work, and was looking for a car that would save me money in gas, as my car then was getting 20 mpg. So it was between the Civic, Corolla, and Fit. I was leaning towards the Fit. Then the Insight was announced, and I decided to hold out for that and check it out. For 1,000-2,000 more, I could get a hybrid over the top of the line Fit I had decided on. So I went with that.
    I wanted a hybrid for the fuel economy. Also, I would rather pay the premium of a hybrid to the car companies working on alt fuel vehicles, than give that money to the gas companies. I plan to keep this car for 10 years, so I'll get my money back.
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  10. I'm really happy with my 2010 Insight; I agree that the Prius is bigger and better but for me the $2500 extra wasn't worth it since the Insight met my needs (cargo and back seat were big enough) and in my opinion the Insight looks cooler (classic somewhat sporty vs. nerdy space age and center console) and I loved the way it handles like a sporty economy car. My advice to Honda wouldn't be to make it bigger, but instead to drop the MSRP further by about $1k to counter Toyota's pricing and not compete with it directly. That would make all of the difference, IMO (if Honda can make an appropriate profit on that). Otherwise they are stuck with a bit of a niche car that people really need to analyze to see if it's worth it to them, meanwhile many don't even know about it due to the lack of advertising. Lower the price another $1k and put out some informative commercials and you've got yourself an economy hybrid market.
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  11. When I was in the market for a new car two years ago, I really wanted a hybrid, but the pickins' were slim (Prius or Civic). I was excited about the new Insight at first, but ended up going with a 2009 Fit. The reason I didn't get the Insight wasn't because it was "too small," obviously I enjoy driving a small car, especially around the city. The problem was that the Insight was butt-ugly! I mean look at the grill! And those weird blue headlights, I mean what were they thinking? I think that packaging is great, but seriously, give that thing a facelift, Honda, and then maybe we'll talk about a trade-in in another year or so. That thing looks like one of those weird deep sea-dwelling monsters you see on the discovery channel. Give me a break!
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

  12. My choice, 2 yrs ago, was Honda's gas Civic (not hybrid). For $16,000 I got a very efficient, likeable car, which (with detailed record keeping) has averaged over 43 mpg for 30,000 miles. Reducing national oil use is imperative, but tempering your highway speeds and careful driving will give a better edge than most hybrids (and no need for NiMh batteries).
     
    Post Reply
    Vote
    Bad stuff?

 

Have an opinion? Join the conversation!

Advertisement

Find Green Cars

Go!
Advertisement

Advertisement

 
© 2014 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by Homestar, LLC.