DETROIT — The Honda Insight is still battling for acceptance.
The initial model, introduced in 1999, looked like a futuristic science experiment. And even though it was the first hybrid in the U.S. market, the Insight didn't become the mainstream symbol of hybrid vehicles, a mantle assumed by the Toyota Prius.
The second-generation version, which looked like the Prius, sold better, peaking at 20,962 units in 2010, but it didn't enjoy wide success.
Now the Insight is back for another round, this time with a sleeker body that wouldn't look out of place if it was parked alongside the Civic and Accord.
Yet even with the revamped styling, it faces a host of challenges. Sedan sales have been sputtering for years, and being a hybrid won't make life any easier.
But the Insight nameplate, despite its struggles to gain a foothold in the U.S., apparently does have one thing going for it: green cred.
"As we did our studies, when we try to figure out how we're going to name any product that we introduce, we found that Insight had a lot of equity with people who are into the environmental community," Ray Mikiciuk, assistant vice president, Honda national sales, told Automotive News. "It had a positive connotation."
The Insight, while largely based on the Civic, will be positioned above the Civic in Honda's car lineup and stand outside Honda's Clarity subbrand of electrified vehicles, which includes a battery EV, a plug-in hybrid and a fuel-cell model. Honda's electrified offerings include the Accord hybrid, and electrified versions of other core models are expected.
It's a smorgasbord of choices that could make some question why Honda would bring out yet another electrified product.
The answer? It's all part of the game plan.
As Toshiaki Mikoshiba, CEO of American Honda Motor Co., explained, Honda is working on its goal of making electrified vehicles — including hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric and fuel-cell vehicles — account for two-thirds of its global vehicle sales by 2030, and must offer consumers enough compelling choices to make that goal attainable.
"We see a diversification of needs for customers looking for environmentally friendly vehicles, and we need a diverse lineup of hybrids to meet those diverse customer needs," Mikoshiba said through an interpreter at the Detroit auto show last week.
Mikiciuk said Honda wanted the Insight to have style, appeal, drivability and performance, a package he thinks is key to taking green vehicles to the mainstream.
AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan praised the more mainstream styling of the 2019 Insight, calling it the "anti-Prius" in reference to the more polarizing designs on Toyota's latest-generation hybrid family. But if Honda's aim is to sell more hybrids, he thinks the CR-V would've been an "instant sales success."
"The RAV4 is doing very well," said Sullivan, highlighting the sales potential among hybrid crossovers. "Ask a Ford dealer if they miss selling an Escape hybrid. They do."