Honda Boss: Next Insight Will Beat Prius MPG

Takanobu Ito, Honda’s president, said last week that the company has grown “complacent,” and specifically pointed to its poor performance with hybrids as a key sign of the problem. To correct the situation, Ito is pushing his engineers to have the next-generation Honda Insight beat the Toyota Prius’s fuel economy numbers—and to deliver it as soon as possible.

“I’m not satisfied,” Ito told Automotive News. In the first quarter of 2010, Honda’s share of the US market fell to 10.1 percent—from 10.5 percent a year earlier.

In concept, the Honda Insight was intended to compete as a more affordable alternative to Toyota Prius. But the price of the Insight, typically in the low $20,000s, is not the much cheaper than a Prius—and the fuel economy is considerably lower. The Prius gets 51 mpg in the city and 48 on the highway, compared with the Insight’s 40/43. The copycat shape of the Insight added to the negative comparison with the Toyota Prius, which has outsold the Insight by about 5 to 1.

In addition to trying to beat the mileage of the Prius, Ito wants to roll out a new two-motor hybrid technical design—one motor employed to increase engine power and another to solely charge the battery. The new system is also likely to switch to lithium ion batteries from the nickel metal hydride technology currently in use. Honda will apply its new hybrid approach to a minivan and in Acura models. A rework of Honda’s hybrid system could potentially create a technology pathway to plug-in hybrids.

More Lessons to be Learned

Honda’s new and improved hybrids are not expected until about 2012. Meanwhile, the company will introduce the Honda CR-Z hybrid coupe this summer. Unfortunately, the small hybrid could be another case of neither-here-nor-there, at least according to Graham at Fifth Gear, the British television show. The CR-Z looks sporty enough, but at 122 horsepower, it’s “not blessed with red-blooded speed,” said Graham. At the same time, the fuel economy averaging at 37 mpg is only “reasonable” and “doesn’t sound that good next to a Prius.”

Britain’s Fifth Gear reviews the Honda CR-Z hybrid. The vehicle just barely manages to successfully combine the features of a hybrid and a sports car, according to the show.

Yet, Honda engineers and designers should take heed to Fifth Gear’s positive feedback on features that could be applied to future hybrids. Graham calls the interior “mad and brilliant,” and praises the availability of a six-speed manual gearbox—a first for hybrids. Given the CR-Z’s moderate level of high-speed handling and cool interactive dashboard features, the reviewer said, “You can’t accuse it of being dull.” Pricing in the US for the CR-Z has not yet been announced.

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  • Eric

    Honda is getting left in the dust…by the time they release this 3rd generation Insight, the plug-in Prius, Volt, Leaf, Focus EV, and even the Hyundai plug-in will be on the road, so they will still be behind.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Can anyone clarify the statement:
    “two-motor hybrid technical design—one motor employed to increase engine power and another to solely charge the battery”?
    I don’t understand what they are talking about.
    Would the motor “to solely charge the battery” really be just a generator connected to the gasoline power train and there would be an electric motor also connected to the gasoline power train? This seems wasteful as you really wouldn’t want to run assist the gasoline engine at the same time as you are charging the battery.
    Does he mean have a gasoline engine (motor?) and an electric motor? This would be the same as they have today.
    something different?

  • Yegor

    Honda is doing pretty bad in fuel economy in the last years. Even in conventional gas cars their fuel economy is worse than Toyota, GM, Hyundai and Ford.

  • FamilyGuy

    “Honda will apply its new hybrid approach to a minivan…”

    That could be cool.

  • Halo9x

    Honda also needs to do something about the dashboard. Compared to the Prius it looks clunky and gimicky. The Prius is more streamlined and informative without looking weird. The Prius looks better on the inside while the Insight looks much nicer on the outside. The Prius also has more room which important for American drivers. So it needs to be slightly larger to allow for more room on the inside. I took a test drive in the Insight and felt cramped (I’m only 5’10”).
    Toyota does in fact have a better Hybrid system. Honda is being too timid about their system. Even my 2007 Prius gets better gas mileage than the current Insight. If I could trade the NMHD for a Li-Ion I would imagine my mileage would be even better.
    Also a few more options would be nice like leather seats, backup camera and smart entry. None of which are available on the Honda Insight.

  • Dom

    Two comments for Honda. 1. You shouldn’t have dropped your US diesel plans. 2. Thank you for putting a six-speed manual in the CR-Z!

  • Dom

    After watching that youtube video, I have to say, the CR-Z is the coolest hybrid out there. I hope it does well.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Maybe Honda will leapfrog everyone by coming up with the first diesel plug-in hybrid.
    I have to respectfully add that I, personally don’t like 6-speed transmissions. You spend your whole time shifting when you could be enjoying the drive. It takes a huge toll from your zero-60 acceleration time. When canyon carving, it is all the more difficult to find the right gear.
    We’ve got to get all the gear lovers here into a Tesla Roadster so you can see how great driving is when the engine does exactly what you want it to, at exactly the right time.

  • Dom

    Well ex-EV1-driver, I must admit I’ve never actually driven a six-speed, all mine have been five speeds. I guess it probably depends on the gearing ratios. If the sixth speed is nothing more than a really tall gear on top of what a standard five-speed would have, then it sounds like a great idea (as in lowering the engine rpms on the highway). Otherwise, yes I can imagine it would be a lot of shifting. I need to try one sometime. But either way I’m just glad to see Honda putting a manual back in one of its hybrids, and I hope to see others do the same. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, as long as a car has a transmission in it, I want to shift it myself, and with a clutch pedal at that. Otherwise, get rid of the transmission, as in the case of electrics or the Volt. Sure I’d miss the fun I have with a shifter and clutch, but at least I’d know there isn’t a transmission down there shifting for me…

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I’ve had the ‘fortune’ to drive rented 6-speeds (mostly diesels) in Europe several times. You’re right that 6 is a tall gear for cruising, however, that still gives you 4 to 5 gears to always have to run through in city traffic and it gets old, even for me, another manual tranny lover (next to EVs :-).
    I just wish that the CRZ got better gas mileage. They need to take the bulk of the power out of the electric motor and get away from the gasoline if they’re going to reduce our gas consumption.
    I think GM could actually run away with the hybrid market over both Toyota and Honda if they can actually sell the Leaf for a reasonable price.

  • MM

    Please, No Diesels!

    Fossil Fuel derived Diesel take twice the Crude to refine a gallon compared to Petrol.

    The yield from a Barrel of Crude is 40% Petrol, 20% Diesel.

  • Jayz

    Dear Mr Honda boss, I have a question. Which generation of the prius do you intend to beat exactly? This is what you said when you launched the current Insight that you have successfully beaten prius figures. Then a few months later we saw the new Prius 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Back when the ‘new’ Honda Insight was coming out, I was at first excited – looking closer at the mpg numbers I was very disappointed. I bought last year the Prius 2010 model and did not even bother looking at the Insight at a dealer – the price of the Insight is lower than the prius, but the difference was too little to justify the much worse mpg numbers (and even though the design of the Prius looks like a copy, it’s a bad copy and the 2010 Prius looks much better – but I guess this is just my personal preference, I also didn’t like the pre2010 Prius designs too much).

    But competition is good and I hope Honda gets their act together and delivers true hybrid technolgies in the spirit of the original Insight with great mpg numbers. Just hope they are going to match the Prius 2012 or Prius 2014 model and not the current one – since also the Prius will improve in mpg numbers.

  • George Parrott

    I went to Tokyo last November to see the Tokyo Auto Show and view the new CR-Z and other new designs. I was and remain GREATLY disappointed in Honda’s approach to hybrid technology. Their IMA design is simply a token gesture toward new efficiency, and as shown in their “hybrid Accord” a really minimal advantage in terms of operating economy. As others have noted above, diesel has great promise with Honda’s engine sophistication and the COMBINATION of a clean diesel with a true powertrain electric drive (which can power the car around town and to speeds of at least 50 mph) could be an impressive advantage. I owned 4 different CRX models and a Prelude, but would not even consider the seductive looking but unpromising CR-Z.

  • davg

    Honda read the market wrong with the Insight gen.2, they thought people wanted a less costly hybrid and would over look the lower mpg rating, maybe had the new Insight been a sedan, people would have flocked too it a bit more…
    to ex-ev1 coments:
    toyota uses an ICE and two electrical motors, wiki it to find out how it works, its a bulky system but works really well..
    but thats what Honda’s boss is talking about, how honda plans to do it without stepping on toyota’s few hundred patents is where the real tricky work is…
    also, GM makes the Volt, Nissan makes the Leaf…

    and last, the crz may not be everyones cup of tea, but it will sell, hopefully honda makes an HF version and an Si/R version before they kill it off…

  • Brandon

    I don’t understand why everyone is so down on the 2010 Insight. My wife and I bought one last summer and we love it. In the city we are getting around 47 mpg and on the highway we consistently get in the 50’s. On several long trips I’ve broken 60 mpg’s. Sure it’s a small car and kinda looks like a Prius, but it gets great gas mileage. Which is why we bought it in the first place.

  • Lakecntyboiler

    Everyone is down on the insight because as with Honda’s other hybrids they really don’t live up to the hype. I want a hybrid with better gas mileage the 47, I got 43 in my civic. I believe that until Honda ditches the IMA and moves the the tech that Ford and Toyota use they will not come close to Toyota numbers. I currently have an Escape hybrid, now it doesn’t wow you with gas mileage since its big, but the technology is better. How about being able to sit in traffic and stay under electric. Can’t do that with a Honda, I hated that everytime I forgot and lifted my foot off the brake in my civic that I was stuck running the engine, or what if you are in traffic and need to move up just 50 feet, bad idea in the civic. I liked my Civic hybrid, but I like the ford and toyota technology better and I believe it will always get better gas mileage.

  • John K.

    Not releasing a Li ion hybrid until (calendar year?) 2012 will be a bad move — they’ll just be in the middle of the pack.

    IMO, they should bite loss and release the CR-Z w/Li ion in America. Li ion would recapture more energy w/hard braking and, most importantly, release that energy faster upon acceleration. That should help reduce the 0-60mph time somewhat. Either way, Honda needs to do SOMETHING to make it seem like they are a player in hybrid tech.

    Also, I wonder if Honda could morph the ratio of motor to engine power to where the engine is more of an “assist” for the motor than the other way around — “Integrated Engine Assist”?

  • HVA

    Honda is focused on making more reliable vehicles, not necessarily fuel efficient. Honda is also way behind in offering bells and whistles in the vehicles, thus keeps cost low. Honda vehicles are usually on more of boring side!

  • CLloyd

    The original Insight was a mileage champion because of weight saving with aluminum. Everyone needs to follow the lead of Rocky Mountain Institute, and search for inexpensive ways to manufacture strong and lightweight structures. The expense of carbon fiber limits it to super exotic cars.

  • bruce mcglynn

    I have owned 4 Hondas since 2005-a CR-V, Civic,Odyssey and now a new Insight! It seems to me
    that Honda has been stuck in park for the last several years. They should have put an automatic
    transmission in the Si, updated the element more dramatically,put a hybrid in the Honda Accord
    4 cylinder, a hybrid in the CR-V,improved the mileage in the Pilot and Odyssey and built the
    concept version of the Honda Insight. Furthermore, the materials used on the interiors are getting
    cheaper and cheaper looking! Observe the carpeting in the Odyssey,Pilot and Insight as one
    My other complaint is that there is no real customer service number where people are trained to
    answer realistic questions. They refer you to the dealer who many times also don’t have answers!
    I realize that Honda is a large corporation but it needs to get back to basics, become reality based
    and become competitive real soon!! Its a great company that losing its way!

  • Jeremy Newbegin

    I’ve owned three of the older style two seater Honda Insights and there is nothing on the Market that touches it. Two seats maybe a negative to many but for my work it has been ideal. I’ve averaged over 70mpg in all three and when driving carefully have got over 90mpg. Driving the car has been real fun as well. The CRZ has been a disappointment to me on CO2 emmissions. 117 per km is poor and is no good for business purchase here in the UK as it needs to be 110 per km to qualify for 100% business relief.

    I’ve opted for surprisingly a new Volvo c30 1.6 diesel stop/start which is 99 per km and averages 72 mpg. It’s solid, has good looks, and is safe.

  • Dennis B

    My wife and I checked out the Insight. Don’t want a Toyota. We are both about 5’5″. She hit her head getting in the passenger seat and that killed it. No Insight for us. We’ll wait for our Accord to die. Then if there’s no Fit hybrid it’s off to shop Ford or Hyundai, anybody but Toyota.

  • Eric T.

    I’ve owned both Honda and Toyota hybrids and beyond fuel economy, it’s night and day: the Toyotas are smooth and the ability to operate in all-electric mode makes it feel really sweet. The Honda hybrid system is jerky: you take your foot off the break and the engine needs to start up right away as the vehicles are incapable of operating in electric-only mode.

    I’ve been a long-time Honda fan. I believe the Hondas are more reliable, and I absolutely find them more fun to drive than Toyotas — Hondas handle more responsively.

    Yet I won’t buy a Honda hybrid until they fix it so the cars can run on all-electric mode. The Honda hybrids right now simply wreck the driving experience in addition to getting poor MPG. I remain a Honda fan at heart and hope they fix this so I can return to Honda. For now, I’m buying all Toyota and eagerly awaiting mass production of all-electric cars, too!

    FWIW, I’m *very* excited about a Hybrid Mini-Van. Boggles my mind that no one makes this yet! That would be ideal!

  • t myers

    My 1995 Honda Civic consistently gets 35 – 50 mpg. The 35 mpg is around town with stops and starts at stop signs and the like and the 50 mpg is on the highway.

    Yes, my 1995 Honda.

    My 1966 Dodge Dart got 22 mpg. I laugh when I see car and truck manufacturers bragging about 22 mpg. Heck, the 1908 Model T got 18 mpg!

  • the davester

    Toyota has marketed a hybrid minivan in Japan and Malaysia for a while. One of them is called the Estima. I think it’s just a bit more compact than American minivans are. More like the Mazda 5 or my old Mitsubishi LRV. Someone is missing out not marketing such a vehicle here in the US

  • Dave Perry

    I purchased a 2010 Honda Insight after test driving the last three generations of Toyota Prius before making a decision to go with a hybrid. If an automobile is just an appliance for you, go for the Toyota and pray they have all their technical problems resolved. In a nutshell, the Insight is a blast to drive. I consistently get 48 mpg with pretty spirited driving with full aircon on and a fairly aggressive driving style. I love a hatchback and the Honda Fit was impossible for me to get comfortable in. My right leg was always jammed up against the dash and I couldn’t get past that. I suggest that is you are obese you will have trouble getting in and out of the vehicle. I’m 6′ 1″ and weigh 235 lbs. yet I’m very comfortable behind the wheel. Every vehicle has a learning curve and if your first impressions of the Insight is like mine, I say go for it.

  • Chaz

    No way the dash I ve seen for the pirus was awful, it was so long and deep. And definitely the pirus shape is better then the honda insight hence more sales

  • Chaz

    Honda boring !!! Civic Integra. Insight mk1. None of which r boring and the insight mk1 had the highest fuel efficiency of any factory produced car of it’s time…..

  • T. De Young

    Umm. Why would GM want to sell Nissan Leafs? I am pretty sure they would want to seel more of their own cars.

  • T. De Young

    “Fossil Fuel derived Diesel take twice the Crude to refine a gallon compared to Petrol.”? That implies that you can easily increase the fraction of crude that diesel represents.

    In reality obtaining diesel is like separating cream from raw milk. Its always there. It isn’t a matter of an inefficient process to make Diesel vs. gasoline. Diesel is one of the easiest parts of Crude to retrieve and until the past couple of decades there was little more to do than to boil the oil, add a touch of chemicals, and clean it up a bit to get it. (Gov regulations require the refiners to remove more sulfur which is a costly process now.)

    In fact to extract more gasoline, Crude runs through a plethora of additional (and costly) processes in order to increase the amount/fraction of recovered gasoline. Sometimes the oils for diesel are converted to lighter products that are added to gasoline in processes that modify the molecules. I.e. the Refiners sometimes forcefully reduce the naturally occuring diesel parts into gasoline parts. So, diesel generally takes less energy and cost to obtain. (This doesn’t mean though that the use of diesel is better or worse for the environment.)

    A side note is that Natural Gas may become a low cost and cleaner alternative for diesel (and gasoline?). There are industries that are working on mainstreaming this as an alternative fuel for diesel trucks (and some cars?). The technology exists and is in use. They are just working to mainstream it. Currently Natural Gas is at a very serious low in the market price making it very attractive on a straight economic basis. The real challenge is to create an entire industry to make/convert/support such vehicles on a large scale.

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