Honda Civic Hybrid

Honda CR-Z hybrid concept
Honda admits that it took a wrong turn with the Civic Hybrid

When most people think of hybrid automobiles, Toyota's quirky Prius is usually the first vehicle to come to mind. The mid-size hatchback continues to dominate the hybrid sales charts and remains Toyota's third best-selling car behind the Camry and Corolla/Matrix.

Many attribute the Prius' success to its unorthodox shape, its remarkable fuel economy, relatively inexpensive price for a mid-sized vehicle and Toyota's perceived bulletproof reliability. Honda, on the other hand, has sat on the sidelines with its failed Insight 2-passenger hybrid and Accord Hybrid. The company's only other hybrid, the Civic Hybrid, has fallen far behind Toyota's shining star in sales.

Whereas the Toyota Prius has managed to rack up sales of 167,009 units though the first 11 months of 2007 -- 16,737 of which were sold in November 2007 -- Honda only managed to sell 29,352 Civic Hybrids through November 2007.

The Civic Hybrid's lackluster sales have not gone unnoticed by executives at Honda. Honda CEO admits that releasing a Civic Hybrid with little visual differentiation from more plebeian Civics was a mistake. “The real competition has just begun,” said Honda CEO Takeo Fukui. “Until now, it has been an image-based competition, not a business-based competition.”

There's also the issue of cost to consider with the Civic Hybrid. The more efficient Prius has a base MSRP of $20,950 while the smaller, less versatile Civic Hybrid has a base MSRP of $23,235.

Honda is looking to right its previous wrongs with two new hybrid models in the next few years. The company will introduce a production version of its CR-Z two-seater. The CR-Z uses an updated version of the Civic Hybrid's Integrated Motor Assist powertrain and a fuel-sipping 4-cylinder engine.

Honda will also introduce a new $22,000 five-seat Global Small Hybrid to directly compete with the Prius in 2009.

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