DEALERS are key to 2009’s new Honda Insight hybrid being a success, says the green car maker.
At an exclusive preview event attended by Car Dealer, Honda personnel said car dealers were central to communicating the car’s eco message.
It arrives in showrooms in April, after a world unveiling at the Detroit Motor Show. A spokesman told us Honda’s ‘aiming to achieve a critical mass.’ And so important are dealers to this, the training and information programmes are already underway.
‘We’ve tried to share as much information as possible with dealers – as early as possible.’
The Insight will boast Honda’s biggest new car training programme ever. This is to ensure dealers communicate the correct message. ‘We need to show dealers the background and where it sits, as well as the new technology.’
The company knows that it is vital to get across the money-saving aspects. Being green alone will not breach the ‘attitude to action’ gap.
Already, the car is reported to be creating an impact. This is why Honda held the preview evening, a month before the official world launch.
‘Dealers can’t wait to get it,’ said the spokesman. ‘Chiswick Honda, for example, knows it will shift – just because it’s got a hatchback.’
Another insider went further. ‘Some dealer groups are desperately trying to join the Honda network, because of our leadership in green technology. They can see how the market is going, and know the brand has huge potential.’
The UK will be the biggest European market for the Insight, and is a vital one for its success.
Mechanically, the new car itself breaks few new barriers; it’s an evolution of the current petrol-electric Civic IMA. This is vital if Honda is to achieve its mass-production profitability targets. The clever part is in the packaging, and in the new eco-mode ‘driver trainer’. This actively teaches drivers how to save fuel.
So what did Car Dealer make of our first sight of and sit in the new car?. The preliminary signs are good. The profile is undeniably Toyota Prius-like (it’s the most aerodynamic shape you can design, apparently), but there’s lots of the current Civic’s customer-winning style on display.
Roomier than a Civic, the five-door hatchback Insight is a much more stylish proposition than the dowdy saloon Civic IMA it replaces. There is lots of space inside and, again, it owes plenty to the current Civic hatch.
The new car’s most significant aspect is the volume Honda expects to achieve. In a full year, it will sell 200,000 Insights worldwide. A large chunk of those are coming to Europe – that’s why this car is designed as a hatch, rather than a US-friendly saloon.
The UK is expected to ‘significantly’ improve upon today’s IMA volumes of around 2500-3000 per year. This is because the Insight will be priced extremely competitively.
Experts pitch it around £15,000 – over £3000 below the Toyota Prius. This will make it the cheapest hybrid there’s ever been.
Crucial, says Honda, for the necessary mass-market uptake. ‘It will broaden the appeal of hybrids. Today, customers choose between diesel and petrol in showrooms.
‘With this, it’ll be diesel, petrol… or hybrid. There’s nothing to make them go, ‘will it bite me?’’
Longer-term, Honda plans to sell half a million hybrids per year, as part of a volume-focused range. The Insight is the first part of this jigsaw. And, if the prices are right, will be a very significant car indeed.
By Richard Aucock