by Jack Rosebro
|The Insight rides into the sunset.|
Adding to the vision set forth by Honda CEO Takeo Fukui during his mid-year speech delivered earlier this week (earlier post), Honda executives provided additional details on the path that Honda has chosen for the future, including the disclosure that production of Honda’s first hybrid, the Insight, would end this year.
A Honda representative said that the company would end production of the iconic Insight hybrid in September. Introduced in December of 1999, the Insight was the first mass-produced hybrid sold in America, beating the Toyota Prius to the North American market by a matter of months.
Early 5-speed Insights which were shipped to the US without air conditioning garnered a 70 mpg EPA highway fuel economy rating. Current production Insights equipped with manual transmissions and A/C are rated at 66 MPG highway/60 MPG city.
The Insight has thus maintained Honda’s title as maker of the most fuel-efficient passenger car sold in America as measured by EPA fuel economy ratings, a distinction long enjoyed by a succession of Honda models beginning in the 1970s.
However, Honda never aggressively marketed the Insight, which was regarded as a “halo car” by many industry observers—a vehicle designed more to burnish its maker’s image than to produce profits.
Sales of the vehicle never rose above 1,000 per month, and usually remained below 100 per month over the last two years as the vehicle was relegated to availability only by special order.
Last year, an inventor, Mike Dabrowski, introduced an open-source kit called MIMA (Manual Integrated Motor Assist), which allows the driver to manually override the Insight’s software that controls the dynamic relationship between the vehicle’s two power sources (earlier post). Users reported around 15% gains in fuel economy during normal driving.
Ramping Up US Production. Expanding on Honda’s announcement of a new manufacturing plant in the US, which Fukui pledged would have the smallest environmental footprint of any Honda plant in North America, Honda manufacturing executive Larry Jutte said that the company was “in the final phases of the due diligence process” preceding the selection of the site for its planned US plant in the Midwest.
Honda executives also quashed rumors of a hybridized version of the Fit (earlier post), a subcompact recently introduced to the North American market, and confirmed that the company’s new hybrid-specific platform, due in 2009, would be smaller and significantly cheaper than the current Civic. Honda has set a yearly production target of 100,000 for the new model, which will be built at its Suzuka plant in Japan.