Two weeks before the Detroit Auto show Honda has revealed the third-generation Honda Insight, and even though the model is still described as “Prototype” I think it’s fair to say it is pretty much exactly the car consumers will be able to buy before long. Prototype or not, the immediate question that comes to mind is whether Honda has finally hit upon a formula that will resonate with buyers?
The previous generations of the Insight never set the sales charts alight, did they?
To say that would be an understatement – the first two generations of the Insight were pretty much market failures, and as the chart below shows their prime competitors, the Prius range from Toyota, pretty much wiped the floor with the Honda. The reasons for the failure are not hard to understand: the first Insight was a cramped eco-warrior that was willfully different, while the first generation Prius was a car designed to feel as mainstream as possible. After the failure of the first-generation Insight Honda overcorrected with its successor, producing a car that was a slavish copy of the successful second-generation Prius, but probably its biggest failure was its poor engineering borne out of Honda’s desire to sell the car at a lower price point than the Prius.
So, third time lucky for Honda?
For the new model Honda has once again gone to the drawing board, and the final product is certainly a lot more appealing than the previous two generations. The new Insight is being described by company insiders as the “anti-Prius”, and it’s not hard to see why – it is a much sleeker car, sitting longer and lower than the upright Prius, with detailing that adds just enough distinctiveness to the Civic-based bodyshell for it to pass off as a standalone model, but without the forced quirkiness of the fourth-generation Toyota. If the car can blend the Civic’s attributes, such as a sporty drive and spacious interior, with a refined and economical powertrain (promised fuel economy is north of 50mpg), the new model could finally bring Honda success in the hybrid arena.
Or is the new Insight too little, too late?
The new Insight certainly looks promising, but concerns remain. In the 17 years since its market debut the Toyota Prius has proven hard to beat, through a combination of excellent engineering and eco-cachet that its competitors have been unable to match (just look at the struggle of the Hyundai Ioniq). And has Honda played it too safe with the Inisight by making it look so much like the Civic? With the higher prices charged for dedicated hybrid cars it is useful to stand out, and the new model may look too much like a Civic facelift to achieve that. And without a plug-in feature (so far), the new Insight may struggle against competitors who offer this increasingly more popular drivetrain configuration.
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