Dropping Insight is part of Honda’s revamped US sales strategy

Article by Anita Panait, on March 6, 2014

Honda Motor Co.’s decision to scrap the Insight hybrid in the United States is part of a revised strategy to expand its lineup of fuel-saving cars and light trucks in the country, the Japanese carmaker said. In a statement, Honda said its efforts will be "focused on further advancing fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicle technologies that are better aligned with customer needs and that strengthen the company's U.S. sales momentum."

Insight production will end this summer, said Honda, which intends to focus on a new lineup of so-called Earth Dreams technology engines, transmissions and electromotive technologies over the next three to four years. Its hybrid product strategy in the US, meanwhile, will focus more on expanded uses of the two-motor hybrid system.

"No manufacturer has more experience with electromotive technologies than Honda and we are committed to applying our expertise to a wide range of products in the coming years," Mike Accavitti, senior vice president of auto operations at American Honda, said in the statement.

"Our hybrid vehicle strategy will focus on new models aimed at delivering the class-leading fuel economy and performance our customers' desire in segments that represent significant growth opportunities."

Honda launched the hybrid system on the 2014 Accord plug-in hybrid, which is EPA-rated at 50 mpg in the city. Honda dubs the 2014 According plug-in hybrid as the most fuel-efficient five-passenger sedan in America.

The Insight was the first hybrid vehicle in the US back in 1999. It was ahead of the Toyota Prius by seven months. While the Prius surged to become the best-selling hybrid car of all time at cumulative sales of 3.19 million vehicles as of January, the Insight only has cumulative global sales of 280,629 Insights as of the end of 2013.  

Of those, 157,275 were sold in Japan. Honda saw US sales of the Insight drop 18 percent to 4,802 in 2013. With the planned production halt, the Insight will be available at dealerships through year end.

Serving as the core of the new Honda Insight is an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system that makes use of a 1.3-liter i‑VTEC four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 10-kW electric motor. The IMA system could deliver 98 hp at 5,800 rpm and 123 lb-ft. of torque between 1,000 rpm and 1,700 rpm.

The 2012 iteration of the Insight now boasts of greater levels of fuel economy, thanks to its Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and to a number of friction-reducing measures in the engine. In fact, a full tank of gasoline (10.6 gallons) is enough to allow the Insight to travel more than 400 miles.

In addition, the new Honda Insight is equipped with the Eco Assist System that could improve the efficiency of vehicle operation while delivering feedback related to individual driving styles. By tweaking vehicle functionality and providing driver feedback, Eco Assist could help drivers improve fuel efficiency depending on the driving conditions.

Just by pushing the ECON button, the driver could improve the efficiency of not just one, but several vehicle systems like CVT operation, throttle control, idle-stop duration, cruise control operation (when equipped) as well as air conditioning.

Eco Assist also sends feedback -- a 3D-like background within the speedometer – over the driving style. As designed, the background could change colors – from green to blue – to tell the driver that he or she is driving efficiently or inefficiently. When the driving style is efficient, the background color is green.

The 2012 iteration of the Honda Insight features a number of tweaks to benefit its aerodynamics. For instance, Honda changed the shape of the underbody cover for the engine bay and added air diffusers under the rear bumper – resulting to smoother flow of air exiting the Insight. Honda also extended by 0.4 inch the strakes ahead of the front wheels, allowing air to be better directed around the wider front tires.

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