In model year 1999, Honda Motors had the honor of introducing the first ever hybrid technology vehicle to the American automotive market, the Insight, beating the popular Toyota Prius to showroom floors by just over a month.
The Insight was produced from 2000 – 2006, average 70 miles per gallon on average, and sold for right around $20,000, easily making it one of the most economical and fuel efficient cars of the era. Honda sold over 18.000 Insights during those six model years.
2009 saw the release of the second generation Insight. While not matching the Prius in sales numbers, it remains the least expensive hybrid vehicle sold in the United States.
Beginning in 2002, Honda added to the hybrid line, with hybrid versions of the popular Civic and Accord.
The Civic most often draws comparisons with the Toyota Prius, offering a smaller but more powerful 1.3L 95 HP gasoline four-cylinder engine, versus a 76 HP 1.5L engine for the second generation Prius. The Civics’ hybrid engine also won the International Engine Of The Year award for three years straight, from 2002-2004, along with being named Motor Trend’s 2006 Car Of The Year.
The Accord Hybrid bowed in 2005, utilizing a powerful 3.0 V6 derived from the Honda Odyssey mini-van. While offering higher performance than the standard Accord V-6, the hybrid did not click with customers, and 2007 was the Accord Hybrid’s final production year. No hybrid model was planned for the newest generation Accord, which premiered in 2008.
With throwbacks to the Civic CRX of the mid-80’s, the Honda CRZ Hybrid debuted in 2010, offering sporty design with a gasoline-electric power train, a 1.5 inline 4 VTEC engine. The car has been universally criticized for its lack of power, offering less horsepower and subsequent punch than the bestselling Prius. Honda is hoping the styling and handling will overcome the criticism. With sports car buyers generally being less concerned about miles per gallon and emission, it remains to be seen what audience, if any, the CRZ will find in the American automotive marketplace.
While Honda was an innovator and industry standard bearer from the 70’s through the 90’s, in the new millennium, they seem to have lost their focus, allowing newer cutting edge technology like hybrid vehicles to become the prevue of other automakers, most notably Toyota.
Time will tell if Honda still has what it takes to reposition themselves at the pinnacle of the automotive hierarchy.