The Honda Insight Is Dead: Here's Why

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

More than two years after American Honda last produced meaningful sales volume with its first Insight, a second Insight arrived to tackle the Toyota Prius head-on.

Only it didn’t, because it couldn’t.

The Insight’s death was reported here at the end of last month. There was no accompanying shock, surprise or horror.

Though it has competed with a much lower base MSRP than the core Prius model, the Insight is a 42 mpg car fighting against the hybrid, a 50 mpg Prius.

Those are the numbers that mattered most to potential customers, not cargo capacity or horsepower or airbags. (The Prius, incidentally, has more cargo capacity behind the rear seats and with seats folded, more horsepower, and more airbags.)

Think of this way. The Prius was akin to the establishment candidate for the ruling party, a guy who’d led the country for years, a policy wonk with a certain charm. In comes Insight, somebody who was once known as a revolutionary politician but disappeared for a few years before returning with fewer baby kisses, less foreign affairs awareness, and no real plan for reducing the deficit.

In 2008, the Toyota Prius was America’s tenth-best-selling car. In 2009, the Insight arrived to take on this hugely popular car but brought with it significant on-paper disadvantages.

The results were as anticipated. Honda sold 20,572 Insights in 2009; Toyota sold 139,682 Prii. Prius sales rose slightly to 140,928 in 2010; Insight volume rose to 20,962 units. Insight volume plunged 26% to 15,549 in 2011; Prius volume fell 9% to 128,064. Prius volume then jumped 15% to 147,507 units in 2012 while Insight sales plunged again, falling 62% to just 5846. Insight sales fell again, 18%, to just 4802 units in 2013. Prius sales slid slightly, just 2%, to 145,172 in 2013.

Through the first seven months of 2014, Insight sales have fallen 6% to 2624 units. Prius sales have fallen 18% to 75,903 as we approach its turn into a fourth-generation iteration.

There won’t be an immediate, overlapping replacement for the Insight. It’s not that Honda needed to sell the Insight at Prius-like levels for the model to succeed. Honda doesn’t sell as many Accords as Toyota does Camrys, and there’s no one implying that the Accord ought to be killed off.

Yet during the time period in which the Insight has steadily waned, Toyota has expanded the Prius lineup. There’s a plug-in variant of the regular Prius that has sold 10,671 copies this year, quadruple the volume Honda has done with the Insight. Toyota USA has also sold 101,715 Prius C hatchbacks since February 2012 and 101,276 copies of the Prius V wagon since the fourth quarter of 2011.

Toyota is trading off the Prius’s name brand to generate genuinely high U.S. sales. There was equity in the Insight name, but by introducing an underwhelming half-measure in 2009, Honda may have extinguished that equity along with the car itself.

The Insight, of course, isn’t the company’s only hybrid. Honda has reported 8250 U.S. sales of the Accord Hybrid through the first seven months of 2014, 221 Accord Plug-Ins, 2904 Civic Hybrids, 263 Fit EVs, 306 Acura ILX Hybrids, and 2355 CR-Zs.

Timothy Cain
Timothy Cain

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  • Alluster Alluster on Aug 30, 2014

    The crz, crosstour, ridgeline, ilx, and zdx can't be too far behind. Honda is having a hard time gaining any traction on non-core models. This leaves them very vulnerable. The accord and crv are are top notch so they should be fine for now, but sonata, optima altima and fusion are gaining on the midsize segment. Cruze, elantra and focus are stealing sales off the civic. Equinox, rav4 and escape eating into crv market share. Honda got complacent because toyota used to be their only competition. Fit ev and accord hybrid prove that honda can build great alternative fuel cars. A prius beating insight should be in the works or they are in real trouble. Honda afterall pioneered hybrids.

  • HydrogenOnion HydrogenOnion on Aug 31, 2014

    In my opinion, the current Insight is basically a rebodied Fit... and not nearly as interesting as the original Insight. But the original Insight should have been called the CRX HF. And there should also have been a CRX Si. A 1.8L R-series or a 2L K-series engine would have been amazing in the original should-have-been-a-CRX Insight. The whole 'Insight' name was a mistake from the start. It ignored Honda's own history. While having a separate "I'm a hybrid" model works for Toyota, Honda and Honda buyers are a little different and always have been. In my view, the hybrid Hondas should be a CRX HF, a Fit HF and a Civic HF. Also in my opinion, the V6 hybrid powertrains should be large-Acura-focused.

  • Carson D I hadn't seen a second-generation Courier with a Mazda engine before. I've seen a few with Ford engines. There was one at the Cox Driving Range that they used to collect golf balls. Golf would definitely be more entertaining to watch if they used moving targets.
  • Tassos ooops, Tim, you missed this one. Would make a lovely "Tim's used car of the day". It satisfies all the prerequisites except the wildly overpriced bit.
  • Tassos ASTON AND BOND BY A MILE. While Aston Martin sells a TINY FRACTION of what even the rarified Ferrari and Lambo sell, it is unbelievably well known. Credit the idiotic, but hugely successful and sometimes entertaining James Bond Movies.
  • Tassos 1988? Too young for me. It's all yours, Tim... BAHAHAHAHA!
  • Gray Awesome. Love these. But, if I had the money for a Fox-body, there is a clean '84 GT 350 here for little more than half the price.