Why Bring Back the Insight? Because a Hybrid Civic Just Isn't Done
Honda raised a few eyebrows by announcing the return of the Insight hybrid for 2019, this time as a larger and plusher four-door sedan. While the model holds the title of America’s first hybrid car, its groundbreaking status didn’t carry over into the model’s second generation, which, despite selling better than the two-seater first-gen model, quietly (and slowly) disappeared from the market after its 2014 discontinuation.
The automaker sold three “new” 2014 Insights last year, and 67 the year before.
Throughout the second Insight’s run, and continuing through 2015, the Civic Hybrid was also available to lower-end electrified car shoppers. Which begs the question: why didn’t Honda just make a hybrid version of its wildly popular 10th-generation Civic?
Oh no, Honda couldn’t do that.
Speaking to Wards Auto at last week’s Detroit auto show, Henio Arcangeli, senior vice president of American Honda’s automotive division, said a new Civic Hybrid just wasn’t in the cards. Instead, it created a new model based on the Civic’s generously sized platform.
“The Civic is lightweight, sporty, fun-to-drive, and if you electrify the Civic I think you kind of take a lot of the character away,” said Arcangeli, “so it was a smarter idea to bring back an older nameplate from before and make it kind of a whole new vehicle.”
There’s no question the Civic lineup is the most diverse in the Honda stable. Three bodystyles. Four engines ranging from tepid to bonkers. It’s possible a variant that doesn’t beat the competition in green specs — and even one that does — could become lost in the noise of all those revving ICEs. Honda’s hoping for 50 mpg-plus combined fuel economy for its latest Insight, a rating that might not best that of the class-leading Toyota Prius.
So, rather than have the Civic Si and Type R hog all the limelight, the automaker figured a standalone model, one outfitted as a premium compact, would serve it best. The Insight’s standard features includes an 8-inch touchscreen and the Honda Sensing suite of driver aids, with upgrades in electronics and interior finishings available on the options list.
Interestingly, Arcangeli’s memory of the second-gen Insight doesn’t seem all that crisp. “The second Insight was I think the least expensive hybrid on the market at the time,” he told Wards. Well, was it? (Note: it was, though reviewers of the day compared it unfavorably to the Prius.)
We’ve seen that hybrids, plug-ins and battery electric vehicles are easier to sell to the affluent, making Honda’s upscaling of the Insight appear a rational choice. There’s little point in chasing the cheapest entry price if the end result is something with a lacklustre reputation. For future “premium” Insight buyers, Honda promises class-leading passenger space — a perk more likely to sway well-heeled green car buyers than 1 mpg or an MSRP slightly lower than a model with far greater name recognition.
Besides, with Hyundai and Kia getting into the compact hybrid game, there’s less chance of capturing the bottom end of the market. Why not put an existing platform to use on a higher margin model?
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