By on April 7, 2014

2010_Honda_Insight_LX_--_10-03-2009

Did the second-generation Honda Insight fail in the marketplace because of a lack of marketing resources? If you said “yes”, then you may want to look at a gig at American Honda.

Speaking to Ward’s Auto Honda’s Jeff Conrad, the Insight, which was generally regarded as a far cry from the class-leading Toyota Prius, failed not because of its rather coarse hybrid system or its Prius-aping styling, but from the lack of marketing resources. Said Conrad

“We had an initial launch, we spent a few dollars, but then we wanted to grow volume in other places, and that’s where the marketing dollars went.”

Far from the 90,000 units Honda aimed for annually, the Insight sold just under 21,000 units in 2010, its best year ever.  Meanwhile, Prius is to hybrid as Hoover is to vacuum cleaner.

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78 Comments on “QOTD: Honda Insight Failed Because Of Marketing...”


  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    It failed because it wasn’t as fuel-efficient as the Prius, which is its entire reason for existing in the first place, and tried to compete with it on the basis of price. Honda Insight failed because it was like a Hyundai of a Honda. People who want to use less fuel and be green are going to go for the Prius. People who want to save gas and money are going to go for the Civic.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Marketing people always think the problem is marketing. It’s never that the product was clearly inferior, it’s always that the marketing people didn’t get enough money to spend. When a campaign flops they just didn’t have enough money.

    I guess thinking you could sell anything to anybody is a necessary trait to be a good salesman, but whenever marketing guys start talking like that I start rolling my eyes.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Disagree. As a marketing professional through my career I haven’t been hesitant to tell product we need something to actually market.

      When you’re in marketing and all you’ve got is, “save you time,” and/or, “save you money,” your product is likely a dud – or you’re lazy at marketing.

      • 0 avatar
        stuntmonkey

        It’s more like marketing is the easy scapegoat. Blaming a lack of marketing is often a backhanded way of saying that the customer isn’t smart enough to “get” the product

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          It’s a nice way for the engineers and product planners to avoid taking responsibility for their blunders. (“It was awesome, but nobody knew!!!”)

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The Prius is the one to beat, and the Insight didn’t beat it. (That insight was apparently lost on Honda.)

  • avatar
    redliner

    On top of the other reasons mentioned, Honda has a pretty bad record for hybrid reliability. Everything from CVT transmissions to batteries seem to go bad early and often. The Prius is a paragon of reliability.

    Additionally, it couldn’t creep on electric power only, and didn’t even have electric air conditioning. A mild hybrid in a full-hybrid world. Just like the Chevy Malibu hybrid, the car and the sales were both unimpressive.

  • avatar
    Prado

    Meanwhile, they continue to build the new Accord Hybrid at a snails pace when the demand is there for a ton more. Seems like Honda lacks ‘self awareness’ in how their products will be received in the marketplace.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The Honda Insight (v 2.00) failed because it didn’t out-Prius the Prius.

    It had inferior fuel economy, a dramatically inferior interior, and inferior driving dynamics.

    With everything against it, it wasn’t priced low enough to play the, “ya, it isn’t as good as the competition but it’s a bargain and still a Honda” card.

    From a styling stand point it was the RC Cola of hybrids. Hey, it says “cola” and the can is blue, like a Pepsi, but well, OK it’s not Pepsi or Coke. But hey, it is cola – and we make it with cane sugar too!

    The Insight was doomed from the word go, and no amount of marketing dollars thrown at it would have helped.

    With that said, Honda’s marketing from say roughly 2008ish to early 2013 has been pretty darn tone deaf (a Civic for everyone campaign)

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Hey, I like RC Cola! And if you don’t like it, well, you don’t have to drink it, mister.

    • 0 avatar
      DevilsRotary86

      “It had inferior fuel economy, a dramatically inferior interior, and inferior driving dynamics.”

      Odd enough, my father in law bought an Insight because he thought it was a sharper drive than the Prius. I have never test drove one of course, so I have no experience to counter him. I just nod. Not going to argue with my father in law on it.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      Take this from a life-long Honda(versus Toyota)follower, as soon as I first saw the 2006(gen two)Prius at the NY Auto Show, and as soon as I actually rode in the back seat of one(one year later) and discovered more rear legroom than a Crown Vic, and other preferable features, I felt Prius was the hybrid to beat. Toyota now has four versions of Prius and Honda is done with their only version of Insight v.2 You have to ask yourself, how many years can it take to just clone a Prius over at AHM in Gardena and discover either they have a match, or, they don’t. I know Honda engineers aren’t dumb, but this Insight didn’t help their case to prove that.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Honestly, I can’t remember seeing ads for the Insight anywhere. I mean, I drove one around the block when it first came out, and it didn’t make a strong impression either way – it was an unimpressive, but not especially bad car. I wouldn’t be shocked if Honda could have sold a few if they pushed them a little more aggressively, or at all, but it certainly wasn’t a “built it and they will come” car.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I disagree. I thought the marketing was great. Lots of TV exposure, the ads were pretty creative. People I talked to were excited that Honda was finally getting back in the hybrid game.

      And then the car came out and was universally panned as Not As Good As The Prius. Nails in the coffin right there.

  • avatar
    carguy

    That would be an emphatic no. The Insight had an inferior drive train to the Toyota and was significantly less refined. The combination of the two consigned this stop gap product to also-ran status.

    Let’s hope Honda brings the new hybrid powertrain from the new Accord to the Civic as that would be a very interesting proposition.

    • 0 avatar
      daver277

      Honda could have easily made the Insight2 with 3 pedals which would have transformed the car but #*(&^% focus groups always want an auto.
      ‘surprised the thing didn’t have 4wd as focus groups always want that too.
      The Insight1 was very simple, had 3 pedals and to this day is the most fuel-efficient car ever sold in North America.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      It would be nice if they just made a few more of the Accord hybrids. Edmonds finds 3k Prius hatches within 50 miles, 765 Prius plug ins, and … 16 Accord hybrids (all 2014′s).

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        Stupid question, is the Accord Hybrid v2.0 a 4-cylinder hybrid or 6-cylinder hybrid as the first was?

        Didn’t the first version fail because the mileage wasn’t there even when it was the fastest Accord to date? I’m trying to remember, but when it came out I wasn’t really aware of cars having just gotten my license in 2004.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          Back in the early days of hybrids, there were two schools of engineering thought regarding hybrids: You could use the setup for either very high gas mileage, or, an increase in horsepower. Most early hybrids went with the first school.

          Honda did the first generation Accord hybrid by the second school. A significant increase in horsepower with no appreciable increase in gas mileage.

          Honda quickly found out that hybrid buyers weren’t interested in a car if it didn’t have at least a ’4′ as the first figure in EPA mileage. The Accord Hybrid only lasted (I think) two years and was a sales flop.

          Currently, F1 is the main exponent of the second school of hybrid design.

  • avatar
    IndianaDriver

    I think the Insight failed because it was too goofy looking – two different axles sizes from the front to the back and those side covers that went over the rear wheels like something from the 1970s. At least the Prius looks like a fairly normal hatchback car. I got behind one of these Insights on a highway the other day and had to just stare at it. The word go-cart was coming to mind.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Don’t forget, the original Insight was basically a beta test, turned loose on early adopters (aka nerds) who bought it for its “weird appeal.” Win-win. I’m being frank here (and I don’t mean it in any insulting way to Honda or towards Insight buyers). Since Honda didn’t take out a lot of the “weird” that made the first Insight special, nor did they greatly improve the powertrain, I think they should be thrilled with how *many* cars they were able to sell!

      JMHO, YMMV

      edit: I meant for this to be a stand-alone comment, although I do agree with you, IndianaDriver.

      • 0 avatar
        daver277

        I own an Insight1 and it seems that everyday it becomes a more logical vehicle to drive. The styling is also (just) starting to become mainstream as cars spend more time in the windtunnel looking for an extra 20% efficiency.

        I love my Insight1 and honestly can’t think of a car that I would want to replace it as I’ve gotten used to spending $0.07/mile to feed it.

        • 0 avatar
          Madroc

          I sold Hondas (very briefly) in 2001 and the Insight1 remains the most fun slow car I’ve ever driven. I mean that in a good way — light, low to the ground, and yeah, great nerd appeal too. Remember when extensive use of aluminum was a big deal and Honda was the innovator, having first deployed it in the NSX? If I had the money to buy a new car back then I would have seriously considered an Insight, 85 HP and all.

          Instead of an Insight 2 and a CR-Z, both of which flopped, I wonder if they could have done something more like a cross between the CR-Z and the Insight1 and offer it with both a hybrid drivetrain and a K24/6MT setup. Call one the Insight and the other the CRX.

          • 0 avatar
            daver277

            I was heartbroken when the CR-Z came out as it was too big and 1000# too heavy.
            I’ve always had a passion for Lotuses.

  • avatar
    Carfan94

    My Mom has an Insight. It didn’t fail because of marketing, it failed because it was an awful car. BTW i found some old commercials

    http://www.hondareference.com/insight

  • avatar
    Charliej

    I bought an Insight in 2010. I was happy with it, because it did what I wanted. I used it as a long distance service vehicle. I could throw a tool box and boxes of parts in the back and go on a service call one hundred miles away and make a profit, because the cost of fuel was so low. Businesses who do service calls, are always looking to cut the cost of fuel. At one time, I was using a Ford F-350 with box body as a service truck, along with an E-350 cab chassis with box body. Between the two, I was paying almost three thousand dollars per month in fuel bills. After buying a Sprinter cab chassis with box body, I paid for the Sprinter with reduced fuel costs. Getting rid of both Fords saved a ton of money. A PT Cruiser for larger jobs, and the Insight for things that I was sure that I would not have to pick up, cut costs further. Over the time that I owned the Insight, it averaged near fifty MPG. If it did not sell like they wished, it was not the fault of the car. It really did get very high MPG figures. For someone who was a high mileage driver as I was, at that time, it worked very well for me.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    It is the second best car in it’s segment…sometimes that is enough, as long as it’s cheaper.
    But, I only agree with the statement, if completely misreading/misunderstading the market can be read as marketing error.
    I never thought of it it as a cheap Prius wannabe , and I guess neither did Honda (because in our opinion it wasn’t, it was an upgrade of the previous Insight) , but the car buying public did, and that is why it failed. Hey, at least it’s better than the Volt, which is kinda close to the ‘Hammerhead Eagle i-Thrust’(Geoff)…

  • avatar
    April

    I think the failure of the Insight was mostly due to the bland styling. When you saw a Prius you knew what it was (a super efficient nerd mobile). With the Honda, it was just another anonymous blob of metal.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    They sold at least a few to the rental fleets. A few years ago, was surprised to be offered one as a low-cost choice at Dollar/Thrifty. Worked out perfectly for a 5-day, 2500 mile road trip. Drove it hard, averaged 40mpg. For a cheap car, it was not bad, I have never driven a Prius but imagine they’re a bit nicer. Hatchback was handy, kind of like a 7/10 scale Saab 9000…

  • avatar
    slavuta

    What marketing? I only needed to look at it for 3-4 minutes at the dealer to tell: “I will NEVER drive THIS car”.

  • avatar
    krayzie

    It must have been hard for marketing to sell something this ugly looking.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    I thought it was terrible. Where the Prius is spacious, the Insight was cramped, especially in the back seat. I’m barely 5′-7″ and I hated sitting back there.

    It also appeared to ape the Prius on the outside, while really being one class lower in size and refinement (and only half a class down on price). It’d be like comparing a Corolla to an Accord – you shouldn’t really do it, but with those looks it was impossible not to.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    It wasn’t released into empty space, it was trying to capture Prius market share. It didn’t make a case to pick it over the Prius. I’ve owned 3 Honda/Acura cars, 2 new, and still wouldn’t even consider the Insight used because Prius.

  • avatar

    I blame the salespersons.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    At least they didn’t blame Consumer Reports.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    It’s time for our weekly Honda editorial.

    I hear the replacement will be called the Hindsight.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    Derek seems to be the only auto journalist still opening Honda’s emails.

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    This past week I had the misfortune to rent an Insight from Zipcar two days after a Prius. Horrible ride, on/off engine & battery cycling that made me think it was off, a jarring transmission, no acceleration, and a very badly finished interior. One is refined and liveable. The other is nothing but a penalty box.

    Honda’s Jeff Conrad is deluded. Insight’s a crappy car and it deserved to fail.

  • avatar
    300zx_guy

    Maybe I’m wrong, but marketing and advertising seem to be getting confused here. As I understand it, the marketing dept studies which products to bring to the market, the advertising dept then creates (wait for it) advertisements to educate and entice the public about the product. Good advertising can sometimes cover for a bad marketing decision, and poor advertising can kill a well conceived product. The Insight is a marketing failure for Honda, to be sure, because the marketing department failed to understand what characteristics were important for their hybrid to sell well. It seems they targeted “lower cost than Prius”, and little else. The result was a very uninspiring product that did little to sway Prius intenders into the Honda. Better advertising may have helped move a few more units, but no amount of advertising was going to make the Insight a sales success.

  • avatar
    bkrell

    I went out looking for one of these in ’09 when they first hit my dealer. The dealer wanted $23k for the LX. Even the EX w/ nav was not on the same level as the Prius but it at least looked nicer inside. I left with a Fit instead and hated it for not being as fuel efficient as a hybrid but not being as sporty as a real sporty car. I traded it for a Civic Si which I ended up hating for being just fast enough to embarrass me when I actually tried to drive aggressively. Traded it for a new 5.0. Problem solved… Oh and the Insight was awful…

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      Seriously, I don’t mean this in a mean/mocking way, but did you really buy three new daily driver eco cars in a five year span? I’m certain any fuel savings were completely trashed in the cost of turnover. What was the point?

      • 0 avatar
        DevilsRotary86

        I have been through it myself, and I agree with you. In my case I wasted a little less money to learn my lessons. I had an ’09 Cobalt LS Coupe, which turned out to be a real turd of a car. Mind you, it wasn’t actually a bad car per-se. It had plenty of power for a cheap economy car, didn’t handle bad after I put some sticky tires on it. The transaxle was marvelous. Let’s just say the build quality was terrible; good car poorly assembled. I gave it an honest try of over 2 years before giving up.

        The next time though I wound up spending near 6 months sharing my wife’s car. During that time I researched and looked through used car ads. Test driving at open test drives (like what MINI hosts) and auto shows. I test drove MINI Cooper, VW GTI, FIAT 500, Chevrolet Camaro, etc. After that time I found the perfect 2006 Acura RSX-S (the short-wheelbased, “A” badge wearing cousin of bkrell’s Civic Si) and couldn’t be happier. I really have no intention of letting it go for decades.

        TL;DR It really pays to take your time and find something perfect the first time and keep it long-term. Everyone has their own advice (buy used etc.) but that’s my advice.

        • 0 avatar
          sproc

          Too funny, sorry you had to go through that. Enjoy your Acura. My 2002 RSX Type S (bought new) still runs like a charm. I don’t need it much, but it’s just too reliable to let go of and costs practically nothing to keep on the road.

          • 0 avatar
            DevilsRotary86

            I didn’t lose too much on the deal and like I said, lessons learned. It didn’t really depreciate that bad in the 2 years that I owned it, largely thanks to heavy discounting when I bought it new in ’09.

      • 0 avatar
        bkrell

        Err, no…I didn’t. I bought 1 daily driver economy car and when I realized I preferred speed to savings I tried to correct the mistake. I thought I’d be happy w/ an Si b/c it was faster than even any of the saabs I’d owned. But it wasn’t and I bought a Mustang GT. You can’t put a price on happiness and sanity when you’re driving as much as I am. I may spend an extra 50 or so bucks a week on gas on top of the hit I took trading in those two Hondas sub 100k miles. But you can’t peel the grin off my face when I’m driving now…

        • 0 avatar
          DevilsRotary86

          Mr. Sproc got the details wrong, but the overall idea is right. It’s good that you found a car that you are happy with, but it sure was an awful waste to constantly trade in cars and take out new loans on 3 cars over 5 years to do it. Like I said, I think it pays off to find the right one to begin with. As our experiences show, that isn’t always the same car for different people. You weren’t happy with the Civic Si, but for me personally I couldn’t be happier with mine (RSX is almost just like the Civic Si). I did look at the Mustang, and it is nice. For me though, I thought it was too big and heavy, I didn’t like the styling, and the interior would have driven me up a wall after awhile.

          • 0 avatar
            bkrell

            Eh, what I perceived as the perfect car changed over time. I pretty much paid cash on the Fit, so no real loss. And the Mustang…once you make the jump to lightspeed, you forget the talk of big and heavy. And interior…dude, I had a 2012 Si, ie the crappiest interior Honda’s made in a while.

            But like I said, moneywise, sure I lost money. I could care less. Money…is not that big of a deal… Hell I DD a V-8 Mustang over 120 miles of interstate, lol. In the Fit, I was constantly getting cut off. In the Si, I was constantly getting challenged to race by everyone who’d ever had a grudge against a ricer (even when I was minding my business). Now I just drive and listen to that rumble. Sometimes I forget to even turn on the radio…

          • 0 avatar
            DevilsRotary86

            Like I said, different perceptions. I just don’t like big and heavy cars, no matter how fast they are. As for interior, my gripes with the interior of the Mustang were that the cup holders were placed right at my elbow when I used the stick shift. It’s a common thing I have noticed in US designed cars that drives me nuts. In my Acura and my wife’s Fit they are placed forward of the shifter and out of the way. Also, I know this one is petty of me, but the Mustang also puts the headlamp controls on the dash and not on the turn signal stalk. Then there is the gauge cluster, which is done “binocole style” where the tach and speedo are each in their own little round pods. I prefer everything to be under a single hood. I am a little weird on interiors. I don’t care much about materials; you could make it out of the same stuff as my daughter’s Fisher-Price play dashboard for all I care. I am however picky on layout.

            None of it was huge, and all of it was petty but as a sum it would have driven me up the wall in under a year so I wasn’t interested. Good seats though, so there is that. I also didn’t like the styling, and I personally find the rumble to be obnoxious.

            I think sproc and I’s point still stands though. It is a waste of money to flip through cars so rapidly. Let’s just let it stand as a lesson to others; take the time to pick right the first try.

          • 0 avatar
            bkrell

            But that’s not the lesson and if I couldn’t afford to do what I did, I would have stayed with the Fit. The only lesson/point I was making was the Insight was a car I was trying to buy and was such a turkey that I couldn’t make myself. And I never said you had to like the Mustang. Just pointing out why it was certainly a step up for me from my Si.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    Marketing Dollars!! We’re talking Honda here. They NEVER spend anything marketing a new product. They throw a few dimes at a exsisting success , like Accord , or CR-V and that’s it. They never intended to spend anything marketing the Insight. To say otherwise is foolish talk. Honda’s Insight failed because of Honda’s approch to the product itself.They overlooked the obvious. Why do people buy hybrids? MILEAGE. They don’t buy on price , they buy on mileage.EVERYTHING else is secondary. Honda refused to see this. It’s no more complex than that. Clearly , Honda has no problem with lowering the bar by creating “cheaper” rather than better. This company started losing direction soon after the death of it’s founder and it’s seems determined to stay on this path. How else can you explain the demise of Acura?

  • avatar
    TW5

    Insight failed because Honda muddled the nameplate. If the Corvette was redesigned as a minivan, I doubt it would sell. Honda turned a purpose-built hypermile vehicle into a knock-off Toyota toaster. Marketing could have lessened the Insight’s failure, but Insight II would never have been a success.

    If Honda had built an affordable XL1, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  • avatar

    I have always loved the ingenuity of the Honda and its engine quality. However I feel that the design has a lot to be desired on this model.

  • avatar
    Cubista

    With the notable exception of the S2000, Honda seems to get itself in trouble when it stops trying to be Honda.

    The first Insight, though I couldn’t stand it at the time, was PERFECT. 2 seats: Check. Manual gearbox: Check. Inexpensive: Varies, depending on your understanding of the term. Far less expensive to own than to buy.

    It was a 21st Century version of the old CRX, updated for the modernity of its time. A geeky little city commuter, basically a Nissan Cube with a lot less room but superior fuel economy. A perfect starter car for someone just getting out of school who has neither a family to transport nor a lot of money budgeted for rapidly rising gas prices.

    It had that niche all to itself and for some reason decided it needed to go up in weight class (which almost never works, unless you’re Manny Pacquiao) and take on Toyota in the family hauler segment. And Toyota handed them their lunch. Good lord, Honda couldn’t even be bothered to style their car differently (than the Prius). The only people who bought the Insight five-doors were probably the people who thought they were in Toyota dealerships and just didn’t think there was any difference between the two once they realized otherwise.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    This failure just reminds me how overrated and overpriced Honda really is.

  • avatar
    tubacity

    More clickbait crap about a crap car. Is this what so called truth about cars has come to?


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