Special Coverage

Paris
Auto Show

PARIS – Promising it will be the most affordable hybrid yet, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. President Takeo Fukui unveils a concept version of the Insight Hybrid here at the Paris auto show today, stressing its simplicity and low cost.

The car, a conservatively styled 5-door hatchback, is a stark contrast with the original Honda Insight, an aluminum-intensive 2-seater that featured very futuristic styling.

Introduced in the U.S. before Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius, the original Insight was the most fuel-efficient car in America, getting highway mileage as high as 70 mpg (3.4 L/100 km).

Despite its efficiency, the little car never caught on and was completely overshadowed by the Prius.

Practicality is the rule with the new-generation Insight. It will have more interior room than the current Honda Civic Hybrid sedan, but its exterior dimensions will be smaller, and it is expected to be priced thousands less than the $23,000 Civic Hybrid. There is speculation it could be priced as low as $18,500.

Fukui says the actual production version of the car, expected to be very similar to the concept, will be shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.

The car goes on sale in Europe, Japan and North America during first-half 2009. Global sales are predicted to be 200,000 annually, including 100,000 in North America.

The car is powered by a 1.3L gasoline engine and modified version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist hybrid-electric system, which the auto maker says has been extensively modified to reduce cost and weight.

While declining to give specifics, Honda says re-engineering some key components and refining manufacturing processes has enabled it to significantly reduce the cost of the system.

However, company officials say the powertrain will remain similar in concept to the IMA powering the Civic Hybrid, meaning it will not be a full hybrid like the Toyota Prius, which can propel itself purely under electric power at low speeds and in stop-and-go traffic.

The Insight is built on a newly developed platform, enabling the HEV control unit and battery to be mounted beneath the cargo area of the hatchback, giving the car a low center of gravity and the practicality of a typical hatchback.

Fuel economy will be similar to the Civic Hybrid’s 40/45 mpg city/highway rating (5.8-5.2 L/100 km).

While there was some speculation the new concept would make a big splash here at this very environmentally conscious show, the car did not attract much attention from the European and U.S. media. Perhaps because France – and the Paris show, in particular – remains very diesel-centric.

dwinter@wardsauto.com