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Honda Insight in blue, Toyota Prius in red  (Source: Motor Trend)

Toyota Prius interior

Honda Insight interior
Honda's Insight brings a knife to a gunfight

Honda has been touting its second generation Insight as a worthy competitor to the Toyota Prius. In the real world, however, sales aren't quite backing up those statements.  The Insight is indeed a worthy competitor to the second generation Prius, but Honda is quickly finding out that it doesn't quite have the firepower to go up against the new third-generation Prius -- at least in the U.S. market.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Honda sold just 2,079 Insights during the month of June in the U.S. while Toyota was able to move a whopping 12,998 Prius hybrids. Since the Insight's introduction in March of this year, Honda has sold a total of 7,524 vehicles -- Toyota, however, has managed to move over 40,000 of its “green” icon. Honda is not expected to meet its sales goal of 90,000 Insights for 2009.

"We're all pretty disappointed. We thought we had the next hit on our hands," said Don Marino, Honda of Santa Monica's General Manager.

"Honda just hasn't had a cogent hybrid strategy at all," added Eric Noble, president of research firm Car Lab.

Honda's Insight does have a few characteristics which can win over consumers. It has a lower price tag than the Prius and more nimble handling. However, the Prius offers better fuel economy (50 mpg combined for the Prius versus 41 mpg combined for the Insight), is larger (the Prius is rated as a midsize vehicle, the Insight is a compact), is faster in acceleration runs, and offers more technology/options to pamper its driver and passengers.

Things are expected to get even worse for Honda when Toyota introduces its "stripper" Prius later this year. The current base Prius has an MSRP of $22,000 compared to $19,800 for the Insight. However, the price of entry for the Prius will drop to $21,000 with the new model in September making the price delta even smaller.

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By Iridium130m on 7/30/2009 10:28:36 AM , Rating: 5
I own an 07 honda civic hybrid that I've put 45K miles on and have also driven several Priuses (or is it Prii?)as rentals for a couple thousand miles. Toyota's technology wins hands down and is worth the price premium: Higher mpgs were easily obtained with the Prius without even trying, I was getting consistently around 45mpg driving it like I would drive any normal car.

My civic hybrid its a constant, concerted and frustrating effort to try to maintain 40mpg. And on the highway, trying to maintain 70mph in 95 degree weather with the A/C on is about impossible with the civic, the prius handles this with ease. My highway mileage in these conditions drops to 33mpg. prior V6 Honda Accord 6 speed with 240hp consistently got 30 on the highway, and maintained 75 - 80 without breaking a sweat.

I originally bought into Honda's mild technology mainly because of its simplicity over the competitions, thinking less to go on, but after having the equivalent of a $1600 repair to replace a sensor in the electric motor, I was wrong about this as well.

In the end Honda's mild hybrid tech just can't keep up with the strong hybrid technology. Honda truly has a mountain to climb here with their hybrid technology against the competition.

By acase on 7/30/2009 11:56:19 AM , Rating: 2

By steven975 on 7/30/2009 12:03:53 PM , Rating: 2
My S2000 can also maintain 30mpg on the highway at 70 with the engine turning 4000rpm with the AC on (and, no, it is not terribly loud or bad for the is probably it's most optimal RPM range for economy).

I think Honda's mild hybrid strategy was the better one...10 years ago. I also think they would have better US fuel economy with a larger displacement engine, too. Of course, that drives up taxes outside the US.

Honda's basically bet on fuel cells, and they're probably the furthest along of all MFRs...but that's a big bet as I don't see H2 fuel stations happening any time soon.

IMO, I think Toyota's got a new battery tech up their sleeve that will blow Li-Ion away.

By FITCamaro on 7/30/2009 2:01:50 PM , Rating: 2
Damn 4K at 70 mph? I mean yeah I know it revs to like 11K but still.

By mcnabney on 7/30/2009 9:43:26 PM , Rating: 2
No kidding. I know the S2000 revs high, but I would guess around 2300-2600 at 70. I don't think I have ever owned any vehicle that travels slower than 90 at 4000.

By Jimbo1234 on 7/30/2009 10:48:06 PM , Rating: 2
I test drove an S2000 in 2002, and it had no power whatsoever until it got up to 4K RPM. It was like driving with a realy poorly designed turbo engine, minus the turbo. I like my torque at any RPM. The S2000 required constant shifting to make it drivable. My S4 twin turbo on the other hand... pick a gear, any gear, mash on the gas, and hold on.

By Sazabi19 on 7/31/2009 3:52:07 PM , Rating: 2
I have an '08 Saturn Aura and i still get 30ish mpg doing 70 (about 2.5k rpm) and i still have another gear somewhere after about 80 or 85 (only get it when i step on it to pass some slow person on a contry bumpkin road). I only paid about 24k for it (4 cyl. 2.4L) and i think i get pretty good mileage on it, about 28mpg avg with 70 city/ 30 hwy. I try not to floor it and i do coast quite a bit and flutter the pettle, but i do love my car and it drives very well (also has a slight luxury feel with the 'wood grain' and nice colors and other accessories i got with it). I'm just not sure paying the extra money for it being a hybrid will pay for the gas, i only plan on having a car for about 3-5 yrs at a time. If you want to go 'green' though i have no problem with it, it's a good idea and has the potential to save money/gas/emissions. It's a step in the right direction but i personally think its just a tad bit too expensive for the trade-offs. Lower the prices on them and i bet they sell a whole lot more.

By bludragon on 7/30/2009 2:02:09 PM , Rating: 2
That 33 mpg figure for the hybrid is suprising as I can almost match that in my si. I've not done a specific test at 70 with ac, but on a long trip with ac and whatever speed traffic allows up to around 70, I typically get around 31 mpg. I wonder what is making it so low?

By Alexstarfire on 7/30/2009 2:24:14 PM , Rating: 2
IDK, but looking at the EPA MPG estimates I'd say it's his car. The 33 MPG he's getting is far below the 45 MPG rating for the car. That just doesn't seem right considering the new EPA standards. I just got back from a 800+ mile trip to Texas and going at 70MPH /w AC on the whole time results in about a 48 MPG average. It varies a bit based on terrain and wind.

By Lord 666 on 7/31/2009 9:10:06 PM , Rating: 2
Its really not his specific car, but the current generation Civic hybrid as a whole. That's why there was a class action lawsuit against Honda.

I've driven both and the Prius easily wins in overall drivability and fuel economy. Just a perfect example of Toyota having a better product.

Now only if Honda imports their diesels...

By Alexstarfire on 7/31/2009 11:36:16 PM , Rating: 2
Hmm, my dad doesn't have that problem. If true that really sucks.

By Iridium130m on 7/30/2009 3:33:52 PM , Rating: 2
Its caused by the high load on the puny barely 1.4L combustion engine. Almost Every hill I climb requires revs to 4500 RPM and assist from the electric motor, and I will still drop to 65mph. This, in turn requires recharging the battery pack on every downhill and flat run, not allow the engine to ever really get a break.

One thing people don't realize is Recharging the battery with the engine is inefficient...1/3 of the power that is generated to recharge NiMH batteries gets turned to heat. So constantly recharging the batteries from using them to climb every hill is an extreme waist of fuel. This is why Toyota moved to the larger displacement engine in the 3rd gen allow the engine to bear to brunt of the load on the highway while using aggressive EGR technology to make the engine act smaller in the city.

Without the A/C load and extreme heat, i can can close to around 40mpg, but the rated 45mpg is only achieved at 70MPH without any head wind very few hills on a cool day, but not cold day. (yes, the cold chews up my fuel economy as well).

By Alexstarfire on 7/30/2009 4:22:00 PM , Rating: 2
I shall say this again, but there must be something wrong with your car. AC and cold really aren't going to have THAT big of an effect on your MPG on the highway. A nearly 20% drop in mileage is far too much. I barely even have a 10% drop with freezing weather/AC, rain, and a headwind.

By Jimbo1234 on 7/30/2009 10:52:18 PM , Rating: 2
A/C should not consume more than 7 horsepower. When I worked for a mining truck OEM several years ago, the biggest, baddest A/C compressor for the equatorial heat applications required 7hp. That thing was at least twice as big as anything I've ever seen in passenger cars.

By Solandri on 7/31/2009 2:36:13 AM , Rating: 2
A sedan cruising at 65 mph should require about 25-30 hp. A full-size pickup will need 35-45 hp. A high-efficiency model like a Prius should be able to do it at 20-25 hp or less. So even a few hp for an AC is a pretty significant hit.

By Alexstarfire on 7/31/2009 2:39:31 PM , Rating: 2
No, it isn't. Especially when you aren't even near maxing out the engine.

By Lord 666 on 8/2/2009 10:53:25 AM , Rating: 2
A modern passenger car requires about 8hp to maintain cruising speed of 65mph.

By Lord 666 on 8/2/2009 10:59:36 AM , Rating: 2
Well, the most direct solution to your fuel economy problem is moving to a flatter area.

Still, you should take your Civic to a different shop for diagnostics and further research that class action suit. No offense, I drove the Civic Hybrid the first week it was available for sale and the test drive didn't last very long.

For a real world usable car with higher mpg than you get now, cut your losses and get a 2009+ TDI Jetta. Take one for a test drive and you'll jump the Honda hybrid ship.

By 67STANG on 7/30/2009 4:25:54 PM , Rating: 2
I average 32mpg in my 3,800-pound Chrysler 300 @ 80mph (2400rpm). Could probably get better at 70mph, but that's too slow for me.

I think this begs the question, if you are a "highway commuter" do hybrids (or even compact cars) make sense? I mean sure, they destroy normal cars in city driving, but it seems that sustained highway speeds are the great equalizer...

By Alexstarfire on 7/30/2009 5:30:50 PM , Rating: 2
I can get 60 MPG or so doing 50-55 MPH, and 50 MPG doing about 70 MPH. Ohh and just FYI @ 100 MPH I get about 30MPG.

By Noya on 7/30/2009 7:56:44 PM , Rating: 1
I own an 07 honda civic hybrid that I've put 45K miles on

You sound as dumb as my hippie aunt who also bought a Civic hybrid and then bitched about the low mileage on her 30-mile each way commute in Montana. She ended up returning the car and just getting an EX model and get the same mileage on her commute.

Hybrids are made for CITY driving. Drive on the freeway at 75mph and expecting the EPA combined or city rating is about as idiotic as you can get.

By Jimbo1234 on 7/30/2009 10:54:29 PM , Rating: 2
A diesel would be the proper choice for highway cruising. The US & Europe are backwards with hybrid versus diesel.

"You can bet that Sony built a long-term business plan about being successful in Japan and that business plan is crumbling." -- Peter Moore, 24 hours before his Microsoft resignation
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