Toyota's Prius may be the poster child for hybrid automobiles in the U.S., but it was Honda who first brought a modern gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle to our shores. The two-seat Insight was introduced in 1999 as a 2000 model and was discontinued in 2006.
The demise of the Accord Hybrid -- whose replacement will come in the form of an Accord diesel -- leaves just the Civic hybrid in Honda's hybrid portfolio. Honda hopes to change that, however, for 2009.
Three new models will help bolster Honda's efforts in the realm of gasoline-electric hybrids. The first model will be a production version of the CR-Z concept. The two-seat vehicle picks up where the Insight left off and includes a Civic Hybrid powertrain (4-cylinder gasoline engine, Honda Integrated Motor Assist, and a continuously variable transmission) that has been shrouded with sleeker bodywork.
The second model will be five-door hatchback with seating for five. The Global Small Hybrid (GSH) is taking direct aim at Toyota's popular Prius and is expected to be similar in design to the FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell vehicle according to Forbes. Early estimates on price for the GSH are in the $22,000 range. Total global sales are pegged at 200,000 units per year.
The third model will be a hybrid version of Honda's second generation Fit subcompact vehicle. Americans are currently able to purchase the first generation Fit which is rated at 28/34 MPG (city/highway) with the manual transmission -- the second generation model is expected to improve upon those numbers slightly. Furthermore, a hybrid version would likely push the numbers higher by another 15 to 20 percent.
"Hybrids have drawn attention for their image, but time has come to go to the next step," said Honda president Takeo Fukui.
With fuel prices quickly approaching (or already exceeding) $4.00 per gallon in many parts of the U.S., Honda’s new hybrid entries should arrive just in time to satisfy a buying public that is slowly stepping away from large body-on-frame SUVs and pickups.