Why the Honda Insight Failed the First Time


Note: The Honda Insight returned for the 2019 model year.

For the second time in its brief history the Honda Insight is being pulled from the US market. And this time it may be gone for good.

The Insight, like the Toyota Prius, is a dedicated hybrid. That means there is no gasoline version and the model’s success or failure stands on consumer demand for hybrids alone.

The Insight, along with the CR-Z, the Civic Hybrid, and an Accord Hybrid, compose Honda’s 2014 model year hybrid offerings. If you want a new one you’ll have to choose one from dealer stock because effective immediately Honda dealers will no longer take orders for the Insight.

Honda Insight.
Remaining Honda Insights on a Cary, NC., dealer lot.

What went wrong with the Honda Insight? Several things including consumer perceptions and competition helped quash Insight sales. The following are the chief reasons why the Insight just did not have the vision to succeed in this tough market.

1. Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius C

Few people remember that the original Honda Insight beat the Toyota Prius to the US market by six months in the late 1990s. However, it didn’t take Toyota long to define and own the segment once the first-generation Prius appeared.

I cannot say that the Prius is a design magnet. It is not. Rather, it is a brilliant marketing effort that has allowed Toyota to claim its green credentials and shape the hybrid market. That market is owned by Toyota which sells more hybrids than all other manufacturers combined. In fact, before Ford came along, Toyota had a 2-to-1 edge in the hybrid market.

And with four Prius models to choose from plus other Toyota and Lexus hybrids in the mix, your selection of green models seems almost limitless. Toyota established the benchmark by which all other hybrids are judged and the Insight could never compete.

2. Ford C-Max

Ford C-MAX

Honda could accept second place in the hybrid segment and be satisfied with that. Unfortunately for them, the Ford Motor Company had a better idea, introducing its C-MAX hybrid line in late 2012 and updating its Fusion Hybrid along with it.

Most likely Ford will never overtake the Prius in hybrid sales. What Ford is doing is finding its own place in the market, by offering plug-in hybrids and standard hybrids alike. Indeed, Ford’s PHEV (Energi) line is outselling the Prius PHEV, quite an accomplishment for this automaker.

With the hybrid market remaining so small, any Ford gain has come at the expense of everyone else. Toyota can afford to lose market share points, but not Honda. Ford’s hybrid success has come largely at Honda’s expense.

3. Other Honda Products

Honda FCX Clarity

Why buy a Honda Insight when there are three other Honda hybrid models to choose from? And those models are much more interesting than the Insight and may make a difference for Honda.

The CR-Z is the model closest to the Insight in pricing, retailing from just $19,995. It is a two-seat hybrid which makes it less practical than other models, but given that Honda is sticking with it demonstrates that its appeal outstrips the Insight.

Honda’s two remaining hybrids — the Civic Hybrid and Accord Hybrid — are based on two highly popular model lines. Neither one has the polarizing look of other hybrids, while also delivering exceptional fuel economy.

Although not yet slated for the US market, the Honda Fit Hybrid may take over where the Insight left off. With Car and Driver reporting a possible price premium of just $1,500 over the gas Fit, it could become the model that replaces the Honda Insight.

4. Bland Styling

Mitsubishi Mirage
2014 Mitsubishi Mirage: 44 mpg on the highway.

I’ve never been a fan of traditional hybrid styling. I realize the cars are shaped the way that they are because of extensive wind tunnel testing. Sculpt these cars to achieve a top coefficient of drag and you get a shape that is virtually void of artistic interest.

Although the Prius and the Insight have similar body lines, the Insight never looked quite right. We’ll leave the first generation model out of this discussion, a completely different car with its own design idiosyncrasy.

The latest interpretation was a jumbled mess: it has a face not unlike the FCX Clarity and it resembles the first generation Prius from its A to C pillars. It’s hatchback design overwhelms its rear while its interior design is simply underwhelming. Honda needed a hit with the Insight, but its blandtastic look assured that it would eventually strike out.

Honda Insight Acumen

Another killer for the Honda Insight are all these fuel-efficient gas-only models that are hitting the market. In delivering 41 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway, the Insight certainly had the fuel economy numbers to go with its low-emissions output.

Then again, the Ford Fiesta, Mitsubishi Mirage, and the Toyota Corolla LE Eco are among several other models that are within the fuel efficiency range. With more fuel-efficient choices available, the Insight’s appeal has been diminished further.

See Also – Auto Trends: First Drive: 2014 Toyota Corolla

Matthew Keegan
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