[Cross-posted] I get a bit bored of the media—this includes The New York Times today quoting ‘analysts’—saying that the Honda Insight (which got way better mileage than the Toyota Prius, and which was on sale in the US before the Prius) did not succeed because it didn’t signal to others that the car was a hybrid. And that’s why the new Insight looks like a Prius.
Bollocks. If I remember correctly, the Insight looked far more distinctive than any car on the market at the time, including the Prius. (The Honda Civic IMA Hybrid—my preference among the Japanese models—meanwhile, did look like a regular Honda Civic.)
People have short memories. The ﬁrst Prius—the one that was on sale when the Insight was—looked like a dull econobox that seemed inspired more by the 1975 Toyota Corolla 30 than anything else. It was only the second-generation model, from 2004, that had the more familiar shape.
Still, the environmentally conscious ﬂocked more to the Prius than the Insight, despite its granny looks. Actually, I know a few grans who would probably disapprove of the styling.
The Insight was an efﬁcient small car that looked like something in the 2000s should, with its rear wheels partly covered and getting over 80 mpg (Imperial). That makes any Prius look like a gas guzzler.
And Honda had enough faith in its 1999 Insight to launch it in the US for the 2000 model year. It didn’t wait for years as Toyota did.
The Insight didn’t do well because it cramped down the back, and Americans used to their SUVs and overhead-valve V8s couldn’t fathom the idea of an engine having less than a litre in cubic capacity. Consequently, Honda built around 18,000—a tiny number compared to the Prius.
But it was far more advanced than anything Honda had ever built. Or, for that matter, anything Toyota offered. Insight had aluminium and plastic bits, a wonderful lean-burn engine, and a drag coefﬁcient of 0,25.
This time, Honda has built a new Insight with a Prius-like shape, using stuff from its parts’ bin, and made it a bit larger. It should do well, but we shouldn’t buy the mainstream media’s assertions that it looks the way it does because its predecessor wasn’t distinctive.The new Honda Insight is unoriginal where the ﬁrst was fresh, and stylistically, it plays to expectations rather than exceeds them.
Karmically, I wish Honda well, but the new car hardly lives up to its tagline of ‘The Power of Dreams’ when it aims to conform. I can’t help but notice the irony, especially those who will buy the Insight because they think it makes an original statement about their green credentials.