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First UK preview: the new Honda Insight

First UK preview: the new Honda Insight

In London last night, WhatGreenCar's director Dr Ben Lane was among an invited audience at the UK preview of the new Honda Insight family hybrid. The production version of the new Insight was presented for the first time ahead of its unveiling at the Detroit Motor Show in January next year.

The new Insight 5-door family hatchback incorporates Honda's existing and unique Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system – the control unit and battery of which are mounted beneath the boot space to give the Insight both a low centre of gravity and the practicality of a conventionally-powered hatchback. The Insight shares the IMA technology with the Civic IMA already available in the UK. Looking to the future, however, the car takes many exterior styling cues from the FCX Clarity, Hondas hydrogen-powered fuel cell car, which is currently being leased to customers in the US.

The new Insight is an important car in several respects. As the first real competitor to the Toyota Prius, when the Insight goes on sale in the Spring of 2009, the hatchback hybrid will be the most affordable petrol-electric car on sale in the UK. This lower price position makes cleaner, hybrid technology more accessible to a completely new group of car buyers. Part of Hondas strategy is based on a recent survey which found that the UK drivers generally think that hybrids are more expensive – of the car buyers questioned who would not consider a hybrid vehicle, 40 per cent said price is the main reason they are put off.

Honda Insight John Kingston, Environment Manager at Honda (UK) said: "This is a massive step forward in the development of hybrid technology. Those people who've considered petrol-electric cars too expensive can now get behind the wheel of a hybrid and experience both the environmental, and the financial benefits of low emission car ownership... Honda's experience in building hybrid systems spans over 20 years, and it's this engineering expertise that's allowed us to make a hybrid car that's economical, versatile, fit for a family and is priced at a level a lot more people can afford."

The Insight also incorporates the unique Ecological Drive Assist System to help drivers achieve better fuel economy. This is the world's first system to combine three different functions to enhance fuel economy: an ECON Mode which controls engine, transmission and other power-train components to support more fuel-efficient driving; a guidance function that helps drivers become more fuel efficient behind the wheel using the colour of the speedometer display; and a scoring function that provides instant and long term feedback on driving techniques, after each journey.

Honda developed the Ecological Drive Assist System to help its customers improve their fuel economy in real world conditions. The scoring function provides cumulative, long-term feedback through graphic 'leaves' which 'grow' over time as drivers learn and then implement a smooth driving style that boosts fuel economy. The visual nature of the scoring function display makes it easier for drivers to improve the efficiency of their driving skills over time.

"Hybrid technology delivers great fuel economy and low emissions, but these can both be affected by driving style, says John Kingston. This new package encourages greener, more efficient driving, in a fun and engaging way."

Honda Insight Interior If you think Honda had already launched the Insight then youd be correct, as the model takes its name from the 1999 hybrid coupe – the first production hybrid car to be sold in Europe. Takeo Fukui, President and CEO of Honda Motor Co. said: "The original Honda Insight was the pioneer of hybrid technology in Europe and remains an iconic symbol of Hondas environmental innovation. This new Insight will also break new ground by providing an affordable hybrid to an expanded number of customers craving great fuel economy and great value."

Significantly, the launch of the new Insight marks the beginning of a new generation of cleaner cars from Honda. Following its introduction, a sports hybrid coupe, based on the exciting CR-Z concept, will enter production – and Honda has also announced plans to build a Jazz Hybrid. With a multi hybrid line-up, Honda will take its place alongside Toyota, and its subsidiary Lexus, as one of the most important manufactures of commercial hybrids world-wide. In this sense, the Insight marks a key shift of the automotive industry from conventional to hybrid power-train technology.

Initially, Honda aims to produce 200,000 Insights a year globally at its Suzuka factory in Japan. Once the four hybrid car line-up has been established, Honda aims to sell over 500,000 hybrids globally per year representing 10 per cent of global sales. With all its economic troubles and forthcoming technologies, 2009 promises to be a crucial year for the auto industry – perhaps hybrids will help the industry make it through to better times ahead.

Expected performance – fuel economy: 61mpg (combined), CO2 emissions: 109g/km.

New Honda Insight, YouTube

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