Honda’s Hybrid Insight Sells Briskly Japan

By dancurranjr On March 15th, 2009

2010_honda_insight_hybridOrders for the hybrid Insight have totaled 18,000 since it hit the Japanese auto market about a month ago, outpacing Honda’s target and underlining the success of the new affordable and ecological vehicle, the company said Tuesday.

The brisk demand for the gas-electric hybrid is a rare piece of good news for Honda Motor Co. as the auto industry grapples with plunging global demand. Honda, Japan’s second biggest automaker, was hoping for the Insight’s monthly sales to reach 5,000 vehicles.

The Insight starts at 1.89 million yen ($19,000) in Japan and will sell for under $20,000 in the U.S., the cheapest hybrid on the commercial market. The Insight goes on sale in April in the U.S., and March in Europe.

Oil prices have tumbled from their peak last July, detracting from the possible appeal of gas-sipping hybrids. But the Insight is drawing a wide-range of buyers to the showroom, according to Tokyo-based Honda

The Insight was the top-selling hybrid for February in the ranking of new vehicle registrations in Japan, totaling 4,906, or No. 10 among all hybrid and regular models, even though it wasn’t on sale for the full month.

That outpaced the Prius hybrid from Toyota Motor Corp., at No. 12, with 4,524 registered for the month, and cumulatively the best-selling hybrid model.

Details of the Insight’s overseas pricing are still being finalized. But it’s cheaper than the Prius, at $22,000 in the U.S. and 2.3 million yen in Japan.

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

Japanese media have speculated 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 has refused to comment on the report. But it is almost certain that the competition among hybrid offerings will intensify this year.

Last month, Honda chose a new president and chief executive Takanobu Ito, who has a career in engineering, to press ahead with innovations and prepare for long-term growth.

Toyota has also recently tapped a new president but sought inspiration from its founding family roots, selecting Akio Toyoda, the founder’s grandson.

Japanese automakers are faring better than their U.S. rivals. Honda especially has managed to avoid forecasting the red ink expected at Toyota and Nissan Motor Co. Honda is expecting 80 billion yen ($809 million) in profit for the fiscal year ending March 31.

SOURCE: International Herald Tribune

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