2010 Honda Insight Hybrid Sales Begin in Japan

By dancurranjr On February 5th, 2009

2010_honda_insight_hybridHonda introduced Thursday the cheapest hybrid on market, starting at 1.89 million yen ($21,000) in Japan and under $20,000 in the U.S., hoping to turn around sluggish sales battered by the global downturn.

Even Honda Motor Co. officials acknowledged the timing was tough for the Insight gas-electric hybrid, which hits showrooms in the middle of a devastating slump, especially in the North American market that’s the main target market.

Also, oil prices have tumbled from their peak last July, detracting from the appeal of gas-sipping hybrids. Insight gets as much as 30 kilometers a liter, or 43 miles a gallon, according to Honda.

“If the Insight had gone on sale a half year earlier, it would have been such a sure hot-seller,” Norio Ano, who oversees auto development at Honda, told The Associated Press.

The big appeal of the Insight, a five-door hatchback, is its pricing.

Details of overseas pricing are still undecided. But it’s cheaper than Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius, the top-selling hybrid, which sells for $22,000 in the U.S. and 2.3 million yen in Japan.

Hybrids tend to be more expensive than regular cars because they come packed with both a gasoline engine and an electric motor. Switching between the systems, depending on speed, boosts mileage.

Toyota, which sold 285,700 Prius cars worldwide last year, is introducing a remodeled Prius starting in May, which is bigger and has a more powerful engine than the current Prius, and likely to be more expensive.

Japanese media reported recently that Toyota may continue selling the old Prius even after the remodeled version goes on sale – an unusual move for an automaker –  to compete against the cheaper Insight. Toyota declined comment.

“Pricing is key when we think about making the hybrid widespread,” Honda President Takeo Fukui said at a Tokyo hotel. “It has to be an appealing price. But it still must make sense for us as a business. It is a very ambitious goal.”

Tokyo-based Honda, which also makes the Accord sedan and Asimo robot, hopes to sell 200,000 Insights a year — about 100,000 in the U.S., 50,000 in Japan and 50,000 in Europe.

The Insight goes on sale in April in the U.S., March in Europe, and Friday in Japan.

Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo acknowledged the U.S. target may be hard to reach in the initial year. U.S. auto sales have plunged by 30 percent or more on year for four straight months. But Honda has already sold out in advance orders the monthly sales plan for Japan of 5,000 vehicles.

Hybrids are still a niche product, making up about 3 percent of car sales. Fukui expects hybrids to grow to 10 percent of sales by 2015 or so.

With global warming concerns growing, hybrids are getting public incentives worldwide. In Japan, a tax incentive that starts in April, delivers about 150,000 yen in savings a year for the Insight.

Yasuaki Iwamoto, analyst with Okasan Securities Co., acknowledged hybrid sales suffer when auto demand is plunging. But demand was definitely shifting toward green vehicles in the long run, he said.

“The trend toward ecological cars won’t change,” Iwamoto said. “The strength of the Insight is the value it brings because of its pricing.”

Source: International Herald Tribune

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