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Honda CR-Z

Honda Insight

Civic Hybrid
Honda's hybrids serve up a big dish of disappointment

Last week we brought you news that Honda is introducing a cheaper trim level for its Insight, one of the brand's two "hybrid only" nameplates. As we noted in that article, the lower price of entry doesn't help that fact that the vehicle is still far inferior to the more expensive Toyota Prius in a number of categories (size, performance, fuel economy, available features, etc).

A new article over at Automotive News sheds some light into just how poorly Honda's hybrids models are doing in comparison to the competition and the company's own forecasts. Take for example the sporty-ish CR-Z hybrid which was introduced earlier this year. Honda set a sales forecast of 15,000 units per year for the vehicle. However, through the first five months of the model's availability, Honda only managed to shove 4,373 CR-Zs off dealer lots -- another 3,000 cars are in inventory.

The CR-Z starts at $19,200 and gets 35 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway (the numbers fall to 31/37 if you opt for a 6-speed manual instead of the CVT). For comparison, the much loved (not to mention better performing and better handling) Mini Cooper manages 29/37 without the need for a hybrid powertrain and has a starting price of $19,400.

Perhaps even more disappointing is the aforementioned Insight. According to Automotive News, Honda forecast sales of 60,000 to 80,000 units per year for the 5-seat hybrid. Instead, Honda has only managed to sell 19,325 Insights through November. For comparison, Toyota sold 125,289 units of its more expensive and more fuel efficient Prius for the same time period.
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Honda's other hybrid model, the Honda Civic Hybrid, has also failed in the marketplace. Honda managed to sell 14,648 Civic Hybrids through the first 11 months of 2009. However, sales of the model are down 55.9 percent to just 6,430 through the first 11 months of 2010.

Analysts and dealerships are pointing fingers at a multitude of problems at Honda for the poor showings not just with its hybrids, but with the rest of its more conventional models. Some point to Honda's outdated inventory system, while others say that company simply has a stale vehicle portfolio.

Another popular criticism is "lowest-common-denominator styling," according to TrueCar VP Jesse Toprak. "The growing Gen Y demographic is more discriminating with their taste," Toprak added. "Honda has become a safe purchase and developed a boring-car image, especially in Los Angeles and Florida, where opinions are formed for the rest of the nation."

Honda has indeed taken more than a few hits in the enthusiast community for losing its way with bland – or in the case of the Accord Crosstour, offensive – styling including many models from the upmarket Acura brand.

But perhaps in the case of CR-Z and Insight, it simply comes down to product. The CR-Z is marketed as a sporty hybrid when it isn't really all that sporty and its fuel efficiency (especially in “sporty” manual transmission trim) isn't really all that impressive. Likewise, the Prius casts a long shadow over the Insight when it comes to fuel efficiency despite being a larger and more powerful vehicle.

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By carniver on 12/7/2010 4:27:56 PM , Rating: 3
There has been a time when Toyota sold their Prius at a loss, but those times were well worth the cost. They established a strong brand, which gives them the sales volume to sustain their project R&D. The volume also allows them to negotiate the best deal on batteries; Toyota gets the very best NiMH battery yields from Panasonic at the least cost. Now they've went past the break even point and are turning in profits on every Prius sold; despite its more expensive price, however, the Prius is actually a steal for all the technology on it.

For Honda, they didn't want to take a loss on their hybrids. But still they wanted to undercut Toyota on price, so what they did, they cut corners as much as possible! The original HCH motor was already small at 20hp compared to Prius' 50hp+30hp, yet the Insight got an even smaller motor that outputs only 13hp. Despite carrying the name i-VTEC, the engines don't actually have the continuously variable cam phasing that a DOHC i-VTEC has. Whereas the Toyota's system comes with Dual VVT-i, Honda's SOHC i-VTEC has little intake management. Obviously you cannot vary the angle of the intake cam if the exhaust is also controlled by the same camshaft! SOHC iVTEC as found with IMA can only vary the cam profile between 2-3 stages, as in idle, economy and performance. And then, while the HCH has all the 3 stages, the Insight only has 2-stages that being idle and economy. Talk about cutting costs on something already very barebone! The only good thing about Honda's engine is the iDSi dual spark design that can burn fuel more completely for better fuel economy, but it cannot do anything about the lackluster output performance!

So what does Honda need to do? They need to add more value to their hybrids, even if they'll have to sell it at a loss! Build an engine that rivals Toyota in terms of technology instead of cheaping out on it and hope consumers don't notice, give it true horsepower with DOHC iVTEC so it can beat the Prius in 0-60 time. Put in more battery capacity so they'll get rated with higher mpg. Establish the brand and let sales volume balance out their costs, and they'll have a winner!

By goku on 12/8/2010 9:31:06 AM , Rating: 2
Well the part about the engine you wrote is true, your solution to the problem is sort of correct. The problem with the honda hybrid system is so fundamental, that they'd have to completely ditch this IMA stuff in order to make their system work any better. The whole idea of spinning the engine with the IMA (electric motor) in order to run ancillary devices while the car is "idling" is a huge waste of energy. Further more, as you pointed out, the electric motor is pitiful and so it can't be used for low speed driving, losing major potential for improved city fuel economy which makes the point about having a larger battery moot.

The IMA system really is designed for assisting in acceleration due to the nerfed engine design and for stop-start operation where hopefully no fuel is consumed while idling...assuming you don't have the A/C running which most people do. If they're serious about boosting fuel economy and performance in that CR-Z, they'd definitely have to spend more money on that engine.

Good video explaining 3 stage i-VTEC:

(CR-Z only comes with two stage!)

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