WASHINGTON, – After two relatively lackluster years on the market, the second-generation Honda Insight hybrid-electric vehicle is seeing a surge in sales thanks to a perfect storm of high gas prices, increased advertising and the spring-car-buying season.

March sales, alone, spiked 62.2%, compared with year-ago, to 2,782 units, Ward’s data shows.

That’s the biggest monthly increase for the latest Insight since March 2010, when deliveries climbed 179.2% compared with March 2009, when the new model launched in the U.S.

The Insight’s sales rise last month outpaced the 52.0% increase for the Toyota Prius, although the Prius remains the hybrid heavy-hitter, with 42,779 units sold in the year’s first quarter vs. 6,058 for the Insight.

“You’ve heard this bromide before, (but) when fuel prices go up, people think of Honda,” American Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel tells Ward’s in an interview here.

“We also have a pretty strong promotion going in terms of advertising (the entire Honda lineup),” called The Really Big Thing, he says. “The dealers seem to be getting increased traffic from that. (Plus), it’s a spring market, customers are coming back (and) a 13.1 million-unit industry is nothing to sneeze at.”

After discontinuing the original 2-seat Insight in 2006, Honda announced the next-gen version in 2008, during the last gas-price spike in the U.S. that drove consumers to seek fuel-efficient vehicles as never before. In May 2008, alone, Honda sold more than 50,000 Civic compact cars.

Riding the wave, the auto maker initially called for 90,000 Insight sales in the U.S., before adjusting the figure downward numerous times as gas prices fell back and the recession caused new-car sales to plunge. Last year, Insight sales amounted to 20,962 units, just 1.9% higher than the 20,572 sold in 2009, when the hybrid went on sale in its current form.

This year’s parts shortage in Japan could slow the HEV’s upward climb.

Mendel says if a situation arises where shared parts are at a minimum, Honda likely will prioritize production of its best-selling-models: the next-gen Civic launching later this month; CR-V compact cross/utility vehicle and Odyssey minivan.

Although Mendel leaves the Insight off the list, Honda resumed building the hybrid April 11 at its plant in Suzuka, Japan, exactly one month since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit the island nation.

Parts shortages delayed the restart of production at Suzuka numerous times, and their scarcity is expected to continue to keep the industry in flux through the coming months.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com