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Honda Insight hybrid ready for Paris Auto Show

The name is back, the car now seats five

The Honda Insight Concept is pretty much what the production model will look like in April 2009. The Honda Insight Concept is pretty much what the production model will look like in April 2009. (Honda)
By Clifford Atiyeh
Boston.com Staff / September 5, 2008
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Monopoly no more.

Honda will show a production-ready concept of its upcoming Insight hybrid at the Paris Auto Show next month, a swoopy five-door the company is readying for battle against the segment-leading Toyota Prius.

When it hits showrooms in April, the Insight will end Toyota's two-year reign as the only manufacturer of a dedicated hybrid model. Honda dropped the first Insight, a two-seater with scant interior space, in 2006 after selling 17,000 cars worldwide. Its EPA rating was once the highest in the US, with a combined estimate of more than 60 miles per gallon.

But now that hybrid technology is selling easier in the face of higher gas prices, Honda is confident it can move 200,000 Insights a year, with at least half destined for North America. Toyota, which since 1997 has sold more than a million Priuses, has proved hybrids aren't a niche market and that most car buyers aren't willing to sacrifice utility for gas savings.

While the Prius has a stronghold over at least half the US hybrid market, the Honda Civic Hybrid barely cracked 10 percent in April, according to hybridcars.com. But Honda fares significantly better than the domestics, which have only started selling hybrids in the past three years.

Much of the Insight's styling already looks familiar. Its long, low-angle windshield and sloping rear connect at nearly the same point as they do on the Prius, a setup optimized for aerodynamics, interior headroom and public attention.

Powertrains, performance and other specifications haven't been announced, but expect to see a similar setup to the Civic Hybrid, which uses a 1.3 liter, 110 horsepower four-cylinder and a 158-volt electric motor. Pricing is also unclear, but Honda hints the Insight will be lower than the current base-model Prius, which currently lists for $22,000.

Honda said it will also launch a sporty, two-door hybrid based on the CR-Z concept soon after the Insight, and expects to eventually sell 500,000 hybrids a year.

However, Toyota isn't sitting on its haunches. A new Prius will bow in late 2009, promising increased fuel economy, luxury, comfort - and sticker prices. Toyota said its annual hybrid sales will be at least one million "as early as possible in the 2010s," according to a press release in May.

On the domestic front, General Motors is scurrying to ready the plug-in Chevrolet Volt hybrid to market by 2010, but it remains unclear if Ford and Chrysler will produce similar dedicated hybrids.

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