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Honda to Stay With Insight, Says Hybrid SUV Not in 3-Year Plan

January 11, 2005

TOKYO, JAPAN — Honda Motor Co. has no plans to remodel the poor-selling Insight hybrid, according to Automotive News on January 4. But it has no plans to kill the two-seater, either, said President Takeo Fukui, because it is the most fuel-efficient car sold in the United States. "That's an image car with the top fuel economy," he says. The Insight's U.S. November sales numbered only five, down from 39 a year earlier. For the 11 months of last year, Honda sold only 575 Insights, a plunge from 1,124 in the year-ago period. The car was launched in 1999 to demonstrate Honda's fuel-saving technology. It is powered by an electric motor and a three-cylinder gasoline-powered engine. With a five-speed manual transmission, the Insight achieves 61 mpg in the city and 66 mpg on the highway. That tops the Toyota Prius' 60 mpg in the city and 51 on the highway. The Prius, which was launched in 2000, has been embraced by environmentally conscious Americans. In the first 11 months of this year, Toyota sold 47,704 Prius units in the United States, more than double the number sold in the same period of the previous year. Unlike Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. has no plans to build hybrid SUVs in the next three years. "For now, we are not thinking about it" for the three-year plan starting in April, said Honda President Takeo Fukui. SUV owners care little about fuel economy, Fukui said. "If they look for fuel efficiency," he said, "they could shift to a car." Fuel-efficient hybrids use gasoline- or diesel-powered engines teamed with an electric motor. Fukui added that a hybrid powertrain is "an extremely expensive system," and that Honda can devise cheaper alternatives to save fuel in vehicles. For example, the Odyssey and the hybrid Accord use cylinder deactivation. The 3.5L V-6 engine runs on all six cylinders when accelerating and three when cruising. Honda's reluctance to offer hybrid SUVs contrasts with Toyota's plans. The Lexus RX 400h hybrid is scheduled to go on sale April 15, and the Toyota Highlander hybrid is scheduled to go on sale in June.
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