Honda was the first car company to bring a modern
gasoline-electric hybrid to the U.S. market with the Insight in 1999. Since
that time, however, Honda has been relegated to a distant second in the hybrid
sales race to Toyota.
Although remarkably fuel efficient, Honda's two-seat Insight
never caught on with the American public. Two generations of Civic Hybrids and
an Accord Hybrid also weren't enough to sway hordes of people to Honda
showrooms. In the case of the Civic Hybrid, it was the innocuous styling
-- the Accord Hybrid failed due to its "performance hybrid" nature
which resulted in meager
fuel economy gains over a conventional Accord V6.
As a result, Toyota simply ran away from the field with its
unique, roomy and highly practical second generation Prius. While the styling
of the Prius didn't set many hearts ablaze, Americans automatically associated
the Prius with being a hybrid.
Toyota sold over 110,000 units of the Prius through the first
seven months of 2007. Honda, on the other hand, struggled to sell one-fifth
that number with the Civic Hybrid and Accord Hybrid sales combined.
"The Prius has become synonymous with hybrid; it's the
Kleenex of hybrids," said Honda senior VP John Mendel. "We feel Honda
should be synonymous with the most fuel-efficient company in America."
Tired of standing in Toyota's shadow, Honda is looking for
a little magic of its own and is building a dedicated hybrid car that will
have its own unique look. According to Honda execs, the new "Global Small
Hybrid" will be a five-passenger vehicle, have a price tag of under
$22,000 and will arrive in 2009.
Honda also says that the Global Small Hybrid will have
better fuel economy than the Prius. Given the company’s past experience with
the Insight and its title as "The most fuel-efficient company in
America," Honda surely has the experience and fortitude to achieve that
Honda, however, isn't placing all of its eggs in one basket
in hybrid technology. While Toyota is looking to make all of its
vehicle hybrids by 2020, Honda is aiming to reserve hybrid technology for
its small cars while giving customers the option of a diesel engine in its