Japanese automaker Honda introduced yesterday the cheapest hybrid on the market, the Insight, starting at 1.89 million yen ($21,000) in Japan, hoping to turn around sluggish sales battered by the global downturn. Moreover, it wants to sell the vehicle at a price below $20,000 in the US.
"We want to sell it for below $20,000," Honda Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo told a news conference to launch the Insight.
Even Honda Motor Co officials admitted the timing was tough for the Insight gas-electric hybrid, which hits showrooms in the middle of a devastating slump, especially in North America that's the main target market.
Also, oil prices have tumbled from their peak last July, detracting from the appeal of gas-sipping hybrids. Insight gets as much as 30 kilometers a liter, according to Honda.
"If the Insight had gone on sale a half year earlier, it would have been such a hot-seller," Norio Ano, who oversees auto matters at Honda, told the press.
Details of overseas pricing are still undecided. But it's cheaper than Toyota Motor Corp's Prius, the top-selling hybrid, which sells for $22,000 in the US and 2.3 million yen in Japan.
Globally, Honda aims to sell 200,000 units of the new Insight a year, including 90,000 in the US and 30,000 in Europe, according to the company. The price, in part, reflects a hybrid system that costs 40-percent less to make than what's now used in Honda's gasoline-electric Civic.
The car can go as far as 30 kilometers per liter, about the same fuel economy as the Civic hybrid. The current Prius can go up to 35.5 kilometers per liter. Toyota also introduced a new Prius in Detroit last month.
The Insight's nickel-metal-hydride battery pack weighs 35 per cent less than that of the Civic hybrid and boosts power output and durability by 30 per cent.
Honda is reviving the Insight name, which it used for a two-seat, gasoline-electric car that got 35 kilometers per liter. That model debuted in the US in 1999 and was discontinued in 2006. Honda sold 666 Insights in 2005 compared with 107,897 Priuses.
Toyota plans to sell its new Prius in the US starting in April and has not said when it will be introduced in Japan, according to spokesman Paul Nolasco. Globally, Toyota aims to sell 400,000 units of the revamped model in 2010. Toyota has sold more than 1 million Priuses globally since the model went on sale in Japan in 1997.