Ahead of Honda’s planned EVs offensive for the United States, the automaker has announced a deluge of hybrid variants of existing products. However these new vehicles will come at the expense of the Insight, which the company had just confirmed will be discontinued after 2022. In its stead will be new hybrid trips for the CR-V, Accord, and Civic — the latter of which served as the template for the passing model.
Unless you’re the owner of a Honda Civic and find its fuel economy lacking — a rare combination — the Insight probably isn’t on your radar. Despite being this first hybrid model to grace North American roads, selling more units than Honda predicted, the original Insight was quickly overshadowed by the Toyota Prius. Successive generations performed better by adhering to greater levels of normalcy, with the current generation appearing for the 2019 model year after a prolonged absence.
For 2021, the Insight is due for a refresh. Honda’s keeping the changes light, focusing on adding a handful of safety options and new “Radiant Red” metallic paint hue. Sure, it won’t send people running to the dealership, though it might sway a few prospective Prius customers — a community that’s been shrinking since 2013.
Count Honda among the dwindling number of automakers that believe a sudden market shift to electric drive technology is little more than a pipe dream. As you read yesterday, the company’s CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, is on the record as saying, “I do not believe there will be a dramatic increase in demand for battery vehicles, and I believe this situation is true globally.”
While rival automakers like Toyota, Mazda, and Subaru have teamed up to advance their electrified ambitions, Honda chose to take it slow and go its own way. Its efforts have already born fruit, and continue to do so. Honda was the first automaker with a mass-market hybrid, but the ensuing two decades has seen the automaker temper its expectations of a fickle, gas-loving public. The brand’s product reflects its outlook.
So, how’s that product doing?
Honda has launched a new media campaign for the Insight, a model that stages its third reappearance for the 2019 model year. The media push frames other hybrids as ugly, boring vehicles you have to settle for in order to gain superior fuel economy. There’s a social media initiative that transforms everyday objects into something more interesting and a television spot where other vehicles mill around while covered in bubble letters that spell out “blah” or “meh,” with horns and engine noises to match.
But the whole ad seems counterintuitive. The Insight ditched its funky wheel coverings after the first generation, which was followed by the loss of the glass-back hatch. Now it’s a pretty normal looking vehicle. You might even mistake it for a miniature Honda Accord.
That’s not an insult; the Accord isn’t a bad looking vehicle, but it also blends in easily with traffic. A large part of that is due to its popularity, but it still calls into question the whole premise of the ad — which serves to portray other hybrids as mundane.
Attractive. Well received. A winner on paper. Technologically advanced. Badged with a logo that keeps producing record sales numbers.
One would assume that this is all that’s needed for the Honda Insight to be a raging marketplace success, at least in 1999.
1999 this is most certainly not, which highlights one glaring problem: the 2019 Insight is an attractive, well-received, impressive-on-paper, technologically-advanced Honda sedan.
Sedan. Sedan? Yes, sedan.
A few months ago, I wrote about the Honda Clarity PHEV, saying it’s a fine but unremarkable fuel-saver sedan and commuter car.
Prepare for déjà vu.
You see, Honda has brought forth another Insight hybrid for 2019. And my take on this Civic-related sedan is much like that of the Clarity – well-built, great for commuters, and remarkably unremarkable.
I say “Civic-related” because the Insight does share bones with the Civic, but there are key differences, especially with its skin. Yet Honda also sets it up as the “mature” compact sedan in its lineup. More on that later.
Honda’s remarkably fleshed-out Insight prototype has now emerged in production form, looking remarkably like the prototype. Go figure, that.
With the 2019 Insight now positioned between the compact Civic, from which it borrows a platform, and the midsize Accord, Honda wants to tempt green car buyers with an upscale appearance (and experience) they can’t find in the Toyota Prius line. If Honda’s estimate pans out, the sedan will boast better city fuel economy than the stalwart Prius.
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.
Third time’s a charm, they say, and Honda surely hopes it’s true. As the third iteration of the on-again, off-again dedicated hybrid model, the newly enlarged 2019 Honda Insight is putting on airs and climbing up from the bottom of the automaker’s model lineup.
For the coming model year, the reintroduced Insight will occupy the third rung of the brand’s car portfolio, above the Fit and Civic, but below Accord. Thanks to a pre-Detroit auto show release, we now have a better idea of what’s going on inside the new Insight, as well as under the hood.
Sitting at the summit of the Honda vehicle range is the Acura NSX — a complex, advanced hybrid two-seater that goes like stink but can’t seem to find many takers. At the bottom, at least until 2014 models dried up sometime in 2015, was the Insight.
Ah, the Insight. The model best remembered as the teardrop-shaped two-seater that gave North America its first taste of hybrid motoring in December 1999 was soon eclipsed in sales by the Toyota Prius. Its main rival never looked back.
After a four-year gap, a second-generation Insight powered back onto the hybrid scene for the 2010 model year. Boasting room for five passengers and a significantly lower fuel economy rating, the follow-up Insight didn’t sent Honda’s sales charts aflame. Volume in 2010 was one-seventh that of the Prius, dropping quickly thereafter.
With a third-generation 2019 model on the way, Honda seems determined to mimic The Little Engine That Could. It’s a bigger and better Insight, the company claims, but will the third time be a charm?
I have a brother with a mechanically-healthy 2001 Toyota Camry LE four-cylinder automatic. I’m estimating it has about 180,000 miles now. He uses that car everyday — extensively on the job, and for visits to family members out of state. Mileage is piling up fast. He does have the car regularly maintained — mechanically — through a local independent technician who he trusts. Cosmetically, the car gets occasional self service, pressure-wand-and-foam-brush washes, but that’s it.
Here’s the problem: he’s a hoarder, and his car is suffering for it.
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.
Since we started out this week with a relatively late-model Junkyard Find, I’m going to jump into the 21st century and share the first Honda Insight I’ve ever found in a high-inventory-turnover, self-service wrecking yard. I’ve seen a few thoroughly stripped early Priuses and didn’t think they were worth photographing, but the tiny two-seater first-gen Insight made the Prius look like a fuel-swilling pig and that makes it a much more interesting car to me. 61 highway miles per gallon, all sorts of advanced aluminum components, and a coefficient of drag of just 0.25… and yet this one couldn’t stay clear of The Crusher.
One dollar of depreciation in four years.
Fifty-five miles per gallon.
Forty-eight thousand miles.
I may have very well owned the cheapest car in America a few years ago. Back in 2009, I bought a 2001 Honda Insight with 145,000 miles for all of $4001 at an auction. After four years and with 193,000 miles, I sold it last year for exactly $4000.
That’s all well and good, but let’s face it folks. I’m in the car business. Plus, a first generation Honda Insight is pretty much a cheat when it comes to cheap cars. It was designed with stingy bastards like me in mind who use the edge of the technological envelope instead of individual ingenuity and improvisation.
That Insight was a cheap car… but definitely not a beater. Why? Too much money and too few stories about personal travels and other unique mayhem. To me, a beater is a concept that has far more to do with the owners than the actual car.
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- Jwee I think it is short sighted and detrimental to the brand. The company should be generous to its locked-in user base, treating them as a resource, not a revenue stream.This is what builds any good relationship, generosity to the other partner. Apple does with their products. My iPhone is 5 years old, but I keep getting the latest and greatest updates for free, which makes me feel valued as a customer and adds actual value. When it is time for a new phone, Apple past treatment towards me certainly plays into my decisions (as did BMW's - so long subscription extracting pigs, its been a great 20 years). Imagine how much good will and love (and good press) Polestar would get from their user base if they gave them all a "68 fresh horses" update overnight, for free. Brand loyalty would soar (provided their car is capable).
- ToolGuy If I had some space I would offer $800 and let the vehicle sit at my place as is. Then when anyone ever asked me, "Have you ever considered owning a VW?" I would say "Yes."
- ToolGuy In the example in the linked article an automated parking spot costs roughly 3% of the purchase price of the property. If I were buying such a property, I would likely purchase two parking spots to go with it, and I'm being completely serious.(Speaking of ownership vs. subscription, the $150 monthly maintenance fee would torque me off a lot more than the initial acquisition cost.)
- ToolGuy "which will be returned as refunds to citizens of the state" - kind of like the Alaska Permanent Fund? Make the amount high enough and I will gladly move to California to take advantage (my family came close to moving there when I was a teen, and oodles of people have moved from CA to my state, so I'm happy to return the favor).Note to California: You probably do not want me as a citizen.
- ToolGuy Nice torque figure.