By on May 20, 2009

While sales of hybrids and plugins languish in the US, and are, for all intents and purposes, non-existent in Europe, in Japan, “the popularity of Honda Motor Co.’s Insight hybrid and the even greater popularity of Toyota Motor Corp.’s new Prius highlights that eco-friendly models are one of the few bright spots for automakers,” the Nikkei [sub] reports.

According to the Nikkei, “Honda’s Insight hybrid, released in February, became the best-selling model among all passenger cars, excluding minivehicles, in April.” Sales will heat up further after Toyota unveiled their third-generation Prius on Monday.

“Toyota dealers in Japan received 80,000 orders for the latest version of the carmaker’s Prius petrol-electric hybrid ahead of its official launch yesterday, a much higher volume than expected as the company had cut prices to fend off a challenge from its emerging green-car rival Honda,” the Financial Times writes. “The enthusiastic response to the third-generation Prius, which Toyota will begin selling outside Japan in a few weeks, appeared likely to propel it to the top of the domestic sales rankings.”

“Honda dealers have no intention of conceding to the newly arrived Toyota model,” mentions the Nikkei in dispatches from the hybrid front. In Honda showrooms, salesfolk stress the price competitiveness of the Insight, and throw in extra upgrade packages.

In contrast, Japanese companies without green cars get deeper into the reds.

At hybrid-less Mitsubishi, sales have been particularly weak since Toyota started taking orders for the new Prius in April. Mitsubishi dealerships even are forced to help customers buy a Toyota. When drivers wish to replace their Mitsubishi car with a hot hybrid, Mitsubishi dealers have no other choice than locate a Prius.

Fuji Heavy’s CEO Ikuo Mori said today that the maker of Subaru hopes to launch a hybrid model by 2012 by taking advantage of its alliance with Toyota, The Nikkei [sub] writes. Better late than never.

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