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
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