UPDATED: Honda Discontinuing Insight Hybrid After Years of Underperforming

By Jacob Brown | February 28, 2014
Update: Honda has issued a statement noting the discontinuation of the Honda Insight after the 2014 model year but saying that it will expand the use of the two-motor hybrid system seen in the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid in a wider swath of its product portfolio. Said American Honda Senior VP Michael Accavitti in a statement: "No manufacturer has more experience with electromotive technologies than Honda and we are committed to applying our expertise to a wide range of products in the coming years. Our hybrid vehicle strategy will focus on new models aimed at delivering the class-leading fuel economy and performance our customers’ desire in segments that represent significant growth opportunities." You can bet that the next Honda Civic Hybrid, a model that has sold more prodigiously than the Insight, will replace its Integrated Motor Assist system with the far more efficient Earth Dreams two-motor hybrid system, and the hybrid lineup will likely expand over the next few years as emissions and fuel economy standards become stricter. Original post (Feb. 26, 2014): Honda went into producing the current-generation Insight with noble intentions: Young social climbers might want a hybrid to call their own, but the Prius seemed like an awfully expensive proposition when it was introduced in 2009. The Insight made sense up until the time that it didn't.
That's why it went largely unloved in the U.S. and is going to be discontinued after this year with no direct replacement planned,according to Honda.
Blame the Great Recession, but the U.S.'s priorities for what it wanted in a small car changed drastically in 2009. Instead of going for more basic cars at cheaper prices, Americans instead opted to get more features in smaller vehicles. Evidenced first by the Honda Insight and later by the 2012 Honda Civic, the automaker was left flat-footed to changing customer demands. With the Civic, it adjusted. With the Insight, it was already too late. The Honda Insight was originally a two-seater first sold in the U.S. starting in 1998. Popular for its fantastic fuel economy, it was discontinued in 2006 and reborn as a five-seater in 2009. But it never caught on quite like the Toyota Prius. Since going on sale, Honda has sold 280,629 Insights globally. By comparison, the Toyota Prius line has found 3.19 million buyers over approximately the same time. In 2013, Honda sold just 4,802 Insights in the U.S. Several reasons can be traced back to the Insight's lousy performance. First, and we noted this in our comparison test with it, a 2012 Toyota Prius C, and 2012 Kia Rio 5-door that we used as a control car, it's pretty miserable to drive. The interior feels well-built, but down-market, compared to other Honda vehicles. Secondly, where Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive makes achieving excellent fuel economy foolproof, Honda's Integrated Motor Assist acts as an electronic supercharger, aiding an engine that's always being used. If you drive with a heavy foot, the car is going to reflect that with lousy fuel economy. Honda's new two- and three-motor hybrid systems, like the one found in the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, achieve much greater efficiencies. And thirdly, it was always a bit too derived from the Prius to take on the Prius. It looked like Honda tried to mimic Toyota's design instead of forging ahead with its own plan. Honda's designs can only become so much more conservative until they seem like an afterthought. So the 2014 Honda Insight will go off into the sunset, unloved and not purchased by most hybrid shoppers. Then again, there was never much there to love in the first place. Source: Bloomberg