It's a tough business out there, even if you have the least expensive hybrid in the marketplace. To wit: —the current one, not its original hybrid introduced a decade ago which, by the way, holds its own amazingly well in the used car market. Today's Insight undercuts the least expensive , relatively stripped II model, by some $2500. Yet in 2009 the Prius outsold the Insight 139,682 to 20,572.
Early on, I drove each car in something of a one-man comparison test. I came away thinking each had its niche. The Prius is larger, a midsize versus the Insight's compact classification. The is sportier, more lithe, to me more engaging. Both carry mpg-tech galore. But, in that high-mpg world of gasoline-electrics, Toyota's full-house hybrid Synergy Drive outplays Honda's sort-of-full hybrid Integrated Motor Assist. Despite being smaller and lighter, the Insight's EPA City/Highway numbers are 40/43 versus the Prius's list-topping 51/48.
At the Detroit show, Honda's CEO Takanobu Ito said he has challenged his engineers to develop a hybrid that betters the fuel economy of the Prius. A tough job indeed, but then again Honda has always been known as an engineering company.