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Honda's Insight makes a solid start in Japan

Posted by: Ian Rowley on March 11, 2009

The new Honda Insight hybrid is doing well in Japan. Since going on sale on Feb. 6, Honda has received 18,000 orders or about three times its initial target. Of course, the novelty of a new model will account for some of the orders and a big ad campaign featuring characters from the Peanuts cartoon strip has drummed up interest. Still, it is a commendable performance given Japan’s auto sales are plunging. In January, the most recent month for which sales data is available, industry sales were down 32.4% compared to a year earlier. Honda hopes to sell about 5,000 Insights a month in Japan over the course of the year.

The Insight is benefiting from its relatively low price. In Japan, the Insight starts from 1.89 million yen or about $19,000. That’s almost the same as the $19,800 price, which Honda confirmed yesterday, and less than a Prius. It’s harder to say what, if anything, a solid debut in Japan means for the Insight’s U.S. sales potential. Honda is certainly aiming high and hopes to sell 100,000 a year in the U.S. However, competition from the new Prius will be stiff even if Honda says the Insight isn’t competing directly with its larger rival. And U.S. hybrid sales are slumping—down 29% in February, compared to a year earlier.

That said, hybrid sales are falling less quickly than the market as a whole despite the current Prius, which dominates hybrid sales, being six years old and about to be replaced. It’s feasible that, in addition to the credit crunch and impact of lower gas prices, many would-be hybrid buyers have deferred splashing out on the new model because they are waiting for the new Insight and Prius models to arrive in U.S. showrooms.

I got to briefly try out he Japan spec version of the Insight recently. I was fairly impressed. It drove nicely enough and I enjoyed the Eco Assist functions which help drivers improve fuel efficiency by driving more smoothly. I was also liked the good all-round visibility—that’s useful when driving on Tokyo’s congested roads. I also cycle and am painfully aware of how difficult it is for many drivers to spot those of us on two wheels. I did have one gripe, though. I wonder if there is enough room in the back. At 6’1”, I found it was a bit of a squeeze sitting behind the driver’s seat.

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Reader Comments

Frank A

March 11, 2009 10:28 AM

I suspect the Insight will not do as well in the USA for 2 reasons. Gas is still very cheap, and the much better driving, looking and cheaper Fit, is across the showroom. Why spend 20K on an insight when you can get a Fit for 15K?


March 12, 2009 12:34 AM

A successful hybrid vehicle, like the Prius, must have locomotion from pure electric motors as well as from a combination of electric and IC propulsion. The psychology of the Hybrid owner needs the pure EV mode to reinforce their notion of economy and ecology. Because Honda Insight has the IMA hybrid techology that does not offer pure EV mode, the Insight will not be able to directly complete against the Prius which has pure EV mode albeit for short distance and at slow speed. Hence, the Insight must complete against the Prius on sales price-- not the wisest business strategy. Also, given that Ford will soon inaugurate a very competitive hybrid with EV mode, the Insight is in for a tough fight for American consumers who want to buy domestic brands. When even the three dumbies at GM are offering hybrid vehicles with pure EV mode, BW readers wonder whether the folks at Honda had one too many sake.


March 12, 2009 01:52 AM

Honda won car of the year awards in Japan, Europe, and North America, as well as our own COTY award back in 2004. It's the world's number-one-selling hybrid vehicle, but more important is who's bought them. Early adopters included such Hollywood royalty as Cameron Diaz, Leonardo di Caprio, Susan Sarandon, Sting, and Billy Crystal.


September 18, 2009 10:35 AM

I think the little thing looks extremely comfortable. You are correct that some may not like its non-full EV status, but since hybrid technology is still young, this may give people who are on the fence some piece of mind. I like what I have read.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Detroit bureau chief David Welch , Dexter Roberts and Ian Rowley bring daily scoop, keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business from around the globe. Read their take on such weighty issues as Detroit’s attempt at a comeback, Toyota’s quest for dominance and the search for an efficient car.

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