Honda, Struggling to Carve Out Hybrid Niche, Focuses on Minivans and SUVs

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Most of us remember the original Honda Insight as that tiny, quirky car that got 70 mpg long before phrases like “peak oil” and “smart grids” had really entered our collective vocabulary. At the time it was introduced, major debates on climate change hadn’t even started. In that sense, the original Insight was far ahead of its time… so much so that you could say it missed the target by about 8 years. And after Toyota introduced the Prius, Honda was relegated to playing the hybrid bit part.

So now Honda sits behind both Toyota and Ford in the Hybrid world–trying desperately to reinvigorate its green lineup with the next generation Honda Insight and its soon-to-be-released CR-Z sports hybrid. But both of these cars have met a cool reception among consumers. The Insight handles horribly, doesn’t deliver the mileage expected from a modern hybrid, and doesn’t really cost that much less than a Prius. The CR-Z has been panned as having both too low horsepower for a sports car and lower mileage than even its predecessor, the CRX.

It all leaves me a bit baffled, to be honest. It seems like Honda truly can’t decide what direction it wants to go with hybrid technology. I bet those board room meetings are less than comfortable.

But, if there’s one thing we can’t do, it’s count Honda out. In its latest bid to regain some momentum in the hybrid world, Honda has now said that it has left the research stage for next generation large car hybrid systems and is entering the development stage. The goal: deliver fuel efficient SUVs and minivans to customers before Toyota.

Toyota has been selling Hybrid Minivans in Japan for quite some time now. Many of us in the States have long wondered when we might see some Toyota hybrid minivan action too, but so far Toyota has yet to deliver. If Honda could get out in front of Toyota in that category, they might just be able to take a cut of the hybrid prize.

Tomohiko Kawanabe, chief operating officer of automobile R&D at Toyota told Reuters that now that the large vehicle hybrid platform is out of the research stage, it should be within 3 years of making it to production. Given that Toyota already has well-developed hybrid technology for large cars, it seems like Toyota could bring a hybrid minivan to market quicker than that.

Whatever the case may be, all of Honda’s eggs are now in the hybrid basket, given that they dropped their strategy to develop diesels for the American market in 2008.

Source: Reuters

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.