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Friday, September 5, 2008

Honda Insight ready to battle Prius

TORRANCE, California — Honda on Thursday lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding its new Prius fighter, saying the compact five-door hatchback — christened the Insight — will make its debut on October 2 at the 2008 Paris Auto Show. Honda said the Insight, which will undercut the price of the Toyota Prius, will go on sale in the U.S. next spring.

The new Honda Insight is expected to be priced from under $20,000 and is the first vehicle in Honda's ambitious hybrid strategy. In comparison, the 2009 Toyota Prius starts at $22,660, including a $660 destination charge.

Honda plans to roll out four new gas-electric models over the next four years as part of a broad global strategy to boost hybrid sales to 500,000 units by 2012 — which would represent more than 10 percent of its total worldwide annual automobile sales.

"Following the launch of the new Insight, Honda also plans to introduce another unique sporty hybrid vehicle based on the CR-Z, first shown at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show," the automaker said in a statement.

Also in the pipeline is a replacement for the current Civic Hybrid, which is due out in late 2010, and a new hybrid edition of the Honda Fit in 2012.

The new Insight is a major leap from the original Insight, a cramped 70-mpg two-seater subcompact that was introduced in December 1999 as America's first gas-electric hybrid car. Honda took pains in its Thursday announcement to describe the new Insight as "roomy." It said the futuristic Insight Concept "shares styling cues with the Honda FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle and will provide an early look at the highly anticipated five-passenger hybrid vehicle."

Honda said it was able to hold down the price of the production Insight "by utilizing a more cost-efficient version of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist hybrid technology, resulting in a new level of affordability for hybrid customers worldwide." Although it provided few technical specifications, the Japanese automaker also said the production Insight will have "a function to assist customers in achieving more fuel-efficient driving habits." The new Insight will be built in Japan.

The Honda Insight is expected to have annual global sales of 200,000 units a year, with about 100,000 of those in North America.

What this means to you: A more affordable Prius fighter is on the way from Honda and could be in your driveway in just a few months.