Detroit Auto Show: Honda’s New Insight

Detroit—The goal of the 2010 Honda Insight, based on information Honda released today at the Detroit Auto Show, is to make the best use of the most cost-effective hybrid technology. And that may be a smart strategy from what some analysts consider to be the smartest car company in the world.

When members of the media troop past the new Insight today, they’ll see Honda’s take on a shape that’s coming to define hybrid and electric vehicles: a five-door hatchback with a smooth front and a high, abrupt tail. You can add the Insight to a list of similarly shaped cars that begins with the Toyota Prius and includes the Chevrolet Volt as well. In this case, Honda leans heavily on styling cues from its much-publicized FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle.

Under the Insight’s hood is a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine putting out 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque—obviously tiny for what Honda claims is a five-passenger subcompact. It’s mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which provides infinite ratios to keep the engine operating within its most efficient range. On the upscale LX model, Honda offers paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel that give the driver the experience of a seven-speed gearbox. A CVT doesn’t actually have gears, so the system uses electronics to direct the transmission to up- or downshift in specific ways when a driver hits the paddle.

Insight
Insight

The hybrid heart of the system is the fifth generation of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The lightweight, ultra-thin electric motor between the engine and transmission puts out 10 kilowatts (13 horsepower). It is powered by a flat nickel-metal-hydride battery pack that sits under the rear deck, just behind the gas tank under the rear seat. The battery holds 0.58 kilowatt-hour of energy—just slightly less than half the 1.3 kilowatt-hours of the current Toyota Prius pack. The Insight battery is recharged with both spare engine power and regenerative braking, and its accelerator connects to an electronic sensor rather than a cable, also known as “drive-by-wire.”

The electronics in the control system let Honda offer what it calls the Eco Assist system, which tells the driver how economically she’s driving by changing the background color of the speedometer. Green means good, blue means you’re a lead-foot. There’s an ECON mode that enhances fuel economy further by resetting the control logic, so the car accelerates more slowly and backs off the gas engine quicker.

The dashboard EcoGuide accumulates data on driving patterns, so hypermiling drivers can analyze their history to improve driving strategies. Honda even shows up to five green leaves in the display—similar to graphics in the Ford Fusion Hybrid—to reward drivers who display the most economical behavior over time.

Squeezing more out of less, the Insight’s electric motor not only moves the car away from rest after the engine has shut down, it can also power the car by itself at urban speeds—under some conditions. Honda says, very cautiously, “When driving on a flat surface at steady speed in the low 30 mph range, for example, it is possible for the driver to determine that the vehicle is being propelled exclusively by the electric motor when the IMA system Power Flow Indicator on the Multi-Information Display shows that only the battery is providing power.” OK, then…

Insight
Insight

Honda has worked hard to keep weight down, so the Insight—at 14 feet, 4 inches long—weighs just 2,720 pounds despite the usual complement of airbags, consumer electronics, other “comfort and convenience features”—and that heavy battery pack. Overall, Honda claims the Insight’s IMA system is 19 percent smaller and 28 percent lighter than the previous generation used in the current Honda Civic Hybrid.

And minimalism can produce maximal results. Honda projects that the Insight will get 40 miles per gallon on the city cycle, and 43 on the highway, for a combined mileage of 41 miles per gallon. So the car will do roughly 400 miles before drivers have to refill the 10.6-gallon tank.

Ah, but what does it all cost? Honda didn’t release pricing in the information it gave to the media, but it has consistently said that the Insight will be “the lowest priced hybrid offered in the US” when it goes on sale in April—with a starting price under $20,000, or several thousand dollars below the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius.

The Insight is the first of several vehicles that Honda will build on a dedicated hybrid platform—the next will be the sporty two-seater CR-Z. The new Insight is expected to sell in relatively high quantities. Honda is targeting annual global sales of 200,000 units per year, with approximately 100,000 in North America. Along with the Civic Hybrid, the new vehicle will be produced at an expanded hybrid vehicle production line at the Suzuka factory in Japan.

In September 2006, Honda stopped making the original Honda Insight, a teardrop-shaped two-seater—widely perceived as impractical by consumers. Despite real-world fuel economy approaching 70 miles per gallon, the company sold fewer than 2,000 Insights in 2005, and fewer than 1,000 units through September of 2006.


  • John Laseman

    Very dissapointing on the gas mileage.

  • 9691

    Indeed, disappointing mileage.

  • paul@paulburnett.com

    At 60 MPH, I get over 50 MPG in my 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid which now has over 180,000 miles on it. (It has an 80 HP gas engine and a 13 HP electric motor.) It’s a pity that Honda couldn’t improve on that performance. 40 MPG is a joke.

  • jayoun

    I get those mileage figures out of my 2001 Toyota Echo. Is this seriously the future of hybrids? Pretty sad if you ask me.

  • JH2

    For those disappointed with mileage, read Wired.com coverage of their test drive:

    During a day behind the wheel last month, we managed an impressive 42.4 mpg without even trying. When we pushed the Econ Mode button and used Eco Assist to mind our hypermiling P’s and Q’s, the Insight returned an amazing 65.6 mpg. That’s on par with the best figures we’ve seen from the Prius.

    So maybe the EPA’s numbers don’t give the whole picture. I’m excited for this one if for no other reason than the price.

  • jayoun

    I agree that the EPA figures are probably conservative, and EPA testers presumably drive the car “normally,” without excessive attention to fuel economy. Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to be excited about the price when it only gets marginally better mileage than a car I get get for $12,000, the Toyota Yaris. I know the honda is a bigger car, more options, etc, but if one is really concerned about mileage then my guess is you would have to drive the Honda for 100s of thousands of miles to payoff the difference from getting the Toyota. By that time you’ll be buying another battery, again adding to the price and environmental impact.

    Although I am being critical I am not the typical American when it comes to cars, and I am sure that Honda’s approach of more power and weight at the expense of every last mile per gallon is a good strategy from a business standpoint.

    Again for perspective, Europeans have long enjoyed small diesels that get 50-60mpg. I can say from personal experience that driving a car with less than 100 horsepower is not as horrifying as most americans might expect. I own a 1.3 liter 2006 Toyota Yaris and unless you want to drive 90mph plus it gets around just as well as my 1.5L Echo.

    Can’t any company offer light weight cars with small engines, few heavy accessories, and ridiculously good fuel economy? Honda was doing it 20 years ago, Ford does it now in Europe, but the cars just don’t exist in this country.

  • Neil

    For all the folks poo-pooing the mileage, let’s have a reality check:

    If it were possible to deliver a roomy, inexpensive, super high-mileage car, that can meet US specifications for autos, it would already have been done.

    I think we we looking at a very solid effort by Honda. I really appreciate Honda’s approach of having a smaller gasoline engine, smaller electric motor and smaller battery packs – compared to the Prius. Economy is not only about saving 5-8 MPG – it can have something to do with cutting the raw materials that go into a vehicle and also about saving $5K when you purchase the car.

  • Competition Race Begins

    It’s great to see realistic competition to the Prius. This will be healthy for the hybrid market.

    I can see why some are disappointed with the gas mileage considering the former 2 seater had such high one. This spells fundamental change of philosophy on the Insight model. Maybe Honda would have been better off calling it something else to preserve the Insight reputation.

    As far as the price, the trick Honda often use is making buyers pay big on options. So I think the lower price tag might change once comparable options are added. We’ll see once the details come in.

    Can’t wait to see the interior details compare to Prius.

  • Bryce

    Congrats to Honda for entering into the market with an affordable hybrid model.

    Now keep going hybridcars.com!!!

    U still have to write stuff on the Cadillac Converj EREV, the VW 42 mpg roadster, the Lexus hybrid, then Ford electric offerings, and maybe even the Chrysler 200C electric.

    Hell maybe you can even mention how the redesigned Camry looks….identical to the current iteration of that vehicle. They have taken the the happy bunny nose styling to its limits now I think.

  • Charles

    Looks like the Prius is still going to be 50% of hybrid sales. The Insight MPGs do not even match the Honda Civic Hybrid (same city, 2 less highway). Most Prius drivers buy the Prius because it is the best economy car on the market. The Insight does not change that one bit. A 10% lower price point does not make up for 20% worse city MPGs. I think the Insight will be a car without a market. If you want the best MPGs you are going to buy the Prius. If you need more room, the Ford Fusion Hybrid is rated at 41 MPG city which beats the Insight. The group of people who are $2,000-$3,000 price sensitive when buying a $20,000-$25,000 car and want the best MPGs is just too small to make the Insight a big seller.

  • Samie

    Sounds like the wine n cheese Prius snob party here. 19k?, 20k? 2-4K can make a huge difference in the hybrid market and while the mpgs are not the best I think we can appreciate Honda’s use of the Insight to branch out to new segments of the market.

  • Patrick

    As someone who has been anxiously awaiting the release of the mpg numbers since rumors of this car hit the market, I am painfully disappointed. It is hard to believe that Honda actually took a step back from the Civic hybrid. At worst, I thought they would be slightly better.

  • Chris C

    I am only “slightly” disappointed with the EPA MPG. However, I’m sure there will be thousands of people that will exceed that if they have their driving habits take advantage of driving a hybrid car. People are doing that with the Civic Hybrid right now.

    So, here’s my one beef with the car. Why in the blue hell is there a paddle shifter on a car that uses a CVT? If you have people choosing the gear level instead of the car’s computer, I have to believe that this will kill the gas milage. Please, someone tell me that I’m wrong here.

    Anyhow, I can’t wait to take a test drive.

  • Bryce

    There is a paddle shifter on a continuously variable transmission….I didn’t even know that was possible….and if it is….why? Maybe to shift it into lower gears on hills or something.

  • crookmatt

    Although the EPA estimated mileage is 40/43 mpg, I think there are many who forget that this is assuming the “Normal” driving mode. Most cars don’t have mode, including the Prius. Once put into Eco mode the Insight has been reported to get over 60 mpg in the city. Honda can’t use this for the EPA estimated mileage since this isn’t considered the “normal” mode of driving.

    Bottom line- EPA estimated mileage simulates real world driving, but is not the same as actual real world driving. Cars capable of driving in more economical modes is a new thing, and it hasn’t been taken into account on the EPA tests.

    The Insight will have real world mileage very close to the next gen Prius.

  • R Fasoldt

    I drove my 1984 Honda CRX from Philadelphia to Key West and back and kept meticulous records showing 70.1 mpg for the trip. Over the next 15 years and 200,000 miles the CRX would consistently come in with 40+ mpg city, 60+ mpg highway and 50+ mpg mixed driving. The 1,288 cc engine cruised naturally at 70 mph, and slipped in and out of traffic so easily and sprightly that I got the finger from several NYC cab drivers, quite a compliment. So what’s the big deal with 40 mpg? Honda can do that without breaking a sweat.

  • Jeb

    Pressure from big oil and other beaurocrats is keeping the MPG down. Hopefully our new administration will cause higher MPG for 2011 and 2012 models of hybrids and regular cars, but GWB has a few more days to screw us over with this Obama can’t undo.

  • Dom

    Bring back the manual transmission!! The original Insight with the manual got the best MPG. Paddle shifters are just silly, especially on a transmission that doesn’t have specific speeds anyway.

  • Mark Lawson

    I waited years for a car that gets only 42 mpg? Please, Honda, show us something worth buying. Huge disappointment. Put your engineers back to work.

  • Phil

    To some of you folks out there concerned about the mileage, keep in mind that the new Insight which is a 5 passenger car is much larger than the old Insight which was only a 2 passenger car.

    Also, keep in mind that the EPA mileage test for car models of the year 2008 and after is much more rigorous than the earlier EPA test of 2007 and before (go to http://www.fueleconomy.gov to learn about the newer more rigorous test). The new test involves more rigours start/stops cycles, acceleration, use of air-conditioning, etc.

    A car that scores 43 MPG on the new EPA test, probably gets roughly 47 MPG using the old test method! So you need to add roughly about 10% to 2008 and after model year cars when comparing those cars to car MPG ratings based on 2007 or earlier model years. You can go to http://www.fueleconomy.gov and get the specific adjustement for each car if you want to be precise.

    I see that many of the comments here in this blog are comparing older cars that would have been under the old EPA test so you’re really not comparing apples to apples unless you make the MPG adjustment I talk about.

  • Bobbo

    I think the fuel estimate is misleading now that EPA uses a new system. Many people can get better mileage than that reported.

    I recently drove like a maniac in a Honda Civic Hybrid (loaner from my company). Over more than 700 miles I averaged a combined 47 mpg. I don’t think it would be difficult to get into the low 50′s with some careful driving.

  • Lucien

    The EPA mileage is misleading. According to both Japan and Europe Insight mileage numbers would be 5% more fuel efficient than Civic Hybrid. Also Edmunds got 55.5mpg combined in their test.

    See all numbers here:

    http://lucienk.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!A4AE3FB12A26635!1055.entry

  • Fishinva

    I completely agree with Neil above. Car companies do the best they can to raise mpg in their cars–it’s in their best interests to do so. If Honda could release a car that had 100 mpg (and could be produced in such a way that it would make the company money), it certainly would. So we should give Honda credit for their effort here.

    Additionally, it’s tiring to hear people still mentioning the fact that their old 1980s Hondas got 70+ mpg and use that to support the notion that car companies today simply don’t try to produce fuel efficient cars. You have to take into consideration all of the safety equipment loaded into cars today. For instance, the Honda CRX in 1985 weighed between 1,713 to 1,953 pounds (depending on the specific model). The 2009 Honda Civic weighs between 2,630 to 2,831 pounds. Although (as noted above in other posts) carmakers do throw in extra goodies like special speakers and such that some people might be able to do without, much of the additional weight comes from safety hardware required by law and/or hardware necessary to prevent lawsuits. If you had a serious crash in a CRX, you were likely dead. If you have a serious crash in a Civic today, you’ve got a much better shot of making it out of your crumpled vehicle alive (and Honda’s got a much better shot of avoiding a lawsuit requiring them to pay out millions and raise the price of cars to offset the cost).

    So you can’t expect auto manufacturers to magically achieve 1980s mpg numbers while also pulling an additional thousand pounds or more in weight.

  • Honda Fan

    I like the 2009 Honda Insight and I really want to buy one. But, the 2010 Toyota Prius can do 50 MPG.

  • Luc

    Also greencar reported they were able to achieve 66.3mpg without extreme driving:

    http://www.greencar.com/features/test-driving-hondas-all-new-2010-insight-hybrid-hatchback

    So I would ignore the EPA numbers.

  • Joe

    Wait. I used to own a 2000 Civic Hatchback that got 39-41 mpg when I drove it normal. How the hell is 43mpg for a hybrid exciting? I feel let down. The original Insight got far better than this. Are you guys going backwards?

  • Anonymous

    @JH2: Following up on your mention of Wired’s test drive, Ward’s Auto World also reports that a group of reporters who tested the Insight on a suburban Phoenix loop all got mileages in the range of 60 to 70 mpg using the “Eco” switch and a few hypermiling techniques.

    @Bryce: Watch for our show roundup coming later this morning!

  • JoJO

    Remember, that is the EPA AVERAGE….the new way the EPA rates vehicles now error’s on the low side, unlike in the pas. I’ve seen independent auto magazines test runs getting in he 46-47 range. For $20,000, awesome.

  • Anonymous

    The first Insight had better gas mileage. Why would Honda think that I’d want a hybrid that gets worse gas mileage then some normal cars?

    And they wonder why Toyota is pwning them in the hybrid sector…

  • veek

    Yes, the mileage on the Insight is pretty disappointing and it looks like it might not even be as good as the Civic hybrid.

    On the other hand, a quick pass with a calculator shows if the Prius gets 45 mpg and the Insight gets 40 mpg, the difference for 12,000 miles is just 33 gallons of gas. Sure, some people swear they consistently get far better mileage, and CO2 production matters too, but realistically, the fuel consumption is so close that other factors (like subjective driving preference, price, trust in the manufacturer, etc) will probably be more important for most consumers.

  • Howard R

    Why are we getting so ramped up about the gas mileage already. We don’t even know what that is yet. All we know is that the Insight’s mileage will be good. Let’s wait until someone actually owns one then we can complain about the mileage.

  • Carlos

    I don’t get the whole thing with the paddle shifters. I know the auto industry thinks that because I’m an American I must therefore be averse to shifting, but I’d love to see just one hybrid car out there with the option.

  • simon b

    Vous en faites pas les gars et les filles,on va avoir les vrais resultats quand la voiture va sortir sur le marche,quand on va pouvoir l essayer a notre guise.

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