Honda is gunning for the Toyota Prius with a new small hybrid
Honda puts its crosshairs on the Toyota Prius

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 goal.

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 larger vehicles.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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