Though the Toyota Prius might be known as the preeminent hybrid vehicle in the United States, Honda actually beat Toyota to it. In 1999, Honda rolled out its Insight model, which became the very first hybrid vehicle offered in the country. Now, slipping sales have led Honda to halt all production of the Insight, effectively yielding to the Prius as the leading hybrid car in the U.S. market.
The announcement came at the end of February, though Honda had already told auto dealers last November that the current generation of Insight vehicles was going to be discontinued. The reason is simple — while the Insight has been around longer, the Prius has completely outsold it, racking up a reported 3.19 million sales. Those numbers make it the “best-selling dual-powered car of all time,” according to Bloomberg.
Honda, on the other hand, can’t even boast 300,000 autos sold worldwide. In the U.S., Insight sales dropped 18% in 2013 alone, making it the second-worst selling vehicle for the entire brand (after the equally poor-performing CR-Z hybrid). However, in a statement issued shortly after the announcement to ax the Insight came, Honda reminded customers of its commitment to exploring hybrid technology. And with the 2015 Honda Fit and the Honda Vezel lined up to hit the markets, it appears that they’re going to make good on that promise.
But why has the Prius taken the lead for so long? One answer might be performance, as the Insight got an estimated 42 miles per gallon, reported USA Today. That’s not a bad measure, but it’s not quite as good as the Prius, which typically flaunts close to 50 MPG.
Another answer could be size. The Prius has led the pack because of its sedan leanings — meanwhile, the Insight was closer to a subcompact. In Europe, subcompacts tend to sell better, but in the U.S. market, it’s all about midsize sedans. Toyota led the charge for midsize hybrid sedans in 2006 with the release of the Camry hybrid, which Ford later hopped on board with via its Fusion hybrid. Companies like Hyundai and Kia have also offered midsize hybrid options in recent years.
“I don’t think it will have a huge impact on the electric car market,” explains Eli Pruett, owner of Bumblebee Batteries. “I believe that Honda will just go in a different direction. I don’t think that they will stop production of hybrid and electric vehicles. Honda likely shot themselves in the foot by introducing a hybrid back when nobody needed it.”
For Honda, all this data might be a calling toward midsize hybrid sedan expansion. Still, the company has its Civic and Accord hybrid options to fall back on right now — and in the U.S. market, that might be a great place to focus its energy.