The History Of Honda Insight

The Honda Insight is a hybrid electric vehicle manufactured by Honda and the first production vehicle to feature Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system. The first-generation Insight was produced from 2000 to 2006 as a three-door hatchback.

Honda will introduce the forthcoming second-generation Insight in early 2009 as a five-door hatchback.


Based on the Honda J-VX concept car unveiled at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, the Insight was introduced in 1999 and was the first production vehicle to feature Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system. The Insight was also the first hybrid sold in North America. It featured optimized aerodynamics and a lightweight aluminum structure to maximize fuel efficiency and minimize emissions.

Total global sales for the Insight amounted to only around 18,000.


The Honda Insight was a subcompact hatchback 3,945mm (155.3in) in length with a wheelbase of 2,400mm (94.5in) a height of 1,355mm (53.3in) and a width of 1,695mm (66.7in). The Insight was only available as a two-seater. Only three different trims were available: a manual transmission without air-conditioning, a manual transmission with air-conditioning, and a continuously variable transmission with air-conditioning. Although produced until 2006, the only major change was the introduction of a trunk mounted, front controlled, multiple CD changer.

One key in increasing the vehicle's fuel efficiency was reducing the mass via the extensive use of aluminum and plastic. Honda built the insight with aluminum front brake calipers and rear brake drums; the fuel tank was plastic; the engine mounts were aluminum; and the exhaust was a small, thin wall pipe. The Insight weighed 1,847lb (838kg) in manual transmission form or 1,964lb (891kg) with CVT and air conditioning. The combination of materials and design gave the Insight body structure 13 percent more bending strength and 38 percent more torsional rigidity than a comparably-sized steel body, despite weighing 40 percent less.

The New York Times wrote that the Insight's styling "suggested Popeye's pal, Olive Oyl, in her ankle-length dress. The rear fender skirts seemed frumpy."


The gasoline engine is a 70hp (52kW; 71PS), 1-liter, 3-cylinder unit providing lean burn operation with an air fuel ratio that can reach 25.8 to 1 . The electrical motor assist adds in another 10kW (13hp) when called on, and similarly provides significant deceleration when used in regenerative mode for braking. (This both improves fuel efficiency and also dramatically extends the lifetime of brakes). When the car is not moving, for example, at a stop light, the engine shuts off. The digital displays on the dashboard display fuel consumption instantaneously. On the manual transmission up and down arrows suggest when to shift gears. The Insight uses the first generation of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid technology. (The next generation, used in the Honda Civic Hybrid, is much more space-efficient.) The Insight has a 3-cylinder 1.0L (61cuin) engine and a brushless 10-kW electric motor located on the crankshaft. Located behind the seats are a series of commercial grade "D" sized NiMH batteries wired to provide a nominal 144 V DC. During heavy acceleration, up to 100 Amps are pulled from the NiMH batteries, the electric motor provides additional power; during deceleration, the motor acts as a generator and recharges the batteries using a process called regenerative braking, charging them with up to 50 Amps of current. A computer control module regulates how much power comes from the internal combustion engine, and how much from the electric motor; in the CVT variant, it also finds the optimal gear ratio. Dashboard gauges monitor the current battery, instantaneous fuel consumption and mode of the electric motor — standby, engine assist or charging the batteries.

High pressure, low rolling resistance tires and the use of low viscosity "0w-20" synthetic oil both enhance fuel economy.

The original Insight had a conventional manual transmission. Starting with the 2001 model, a CVT variant of the Insight was available; the CVT is similar to that used in the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Honda Logo. A feature shared by the two hybrids (and now appearing in others) is the ability to automatically turn off the engine when the vehicle is at a stop (and restart it upon movement). Since it is more powerful than most starters of conventional cars, the Insight's electric motor can start the engine nearly instantaneously.

The Integrated Motor Assist is run by an "Intelligent Power Unit (IPU)", a desktop computer-sized box. The Intelligent Power Unit, the Power control Unit, the Electronic Control Unit, the vehicle's batteries, converter and a high-voltage inverter are all located under the cargo floor of the vehicle, behind the seats.

To maximize fuel efficiency, the Insight was very aerodynamic. The Insight had one of the lowest coefficients of drag of any marketed automobile giving it a coefficient of 0.25.

The Insight was available with a manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A traditional transmission shifts between a fixed set of engine-to-wheel ratios; however, a CVT allows for an infinite set of ratios between its lowest gear and its highest. The CVT-equipped Insight was classified as a super-low emissions vehicle.

The Insight features low emissions: the California Air Resources Board gave the 5-speed model a ULEV rating, and the CVT model earned a SULEV rating. (The 5-speed's lean-burn ability is a trade-off which increases efficiency at the expense of slightly higher NOx emissions.)


The Insight was assembled at the Honda factory in Suzuka, Japan, where the Honda NSX and the Honda S2000 are also assembled. The Insight and the NSX are aluminum bodies, while the S2000 employs a steel body.

At the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show, Honda introduced the concept car Honda IMAS, an extremely fuel-efficient and lightweight hybrid car made of aluminum and carbon fiber, which was perceived by most observers to be the future direction where the Insight is heading.

In May 2006, Honda announced the end of Insight production in September 2006. According to Honda, it will be replaced by a new hybrid car smaller than the eighth generation Civic. While year round production of the Insight would stop in 2006, limited production during the winter would continue as necessary, presumably for parts. The Insight was designed as a real world test car for hybrid technology and to gauge driving habits.


The Insight was the first mass-produced hybrid automobile sold in the United States, achieving 70miles per US gallon (3.4L/ 100km; 84mpg-imp) per its then current United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highway rating. The Insight's hybrid technology combines an internal combustion engine and an electric motor with rechargeable Nickel-Metal Hydride cells, however, was introduced at a price of just under US$20,000. Other hybrids soon followed, with the Toyota Prius arriving in June 2000. Honda rolled out a hybrid version of the Honda Civic in 2002, followed by Toyota's relaunch of the Prius in 2003.

Fuel efficiency

The car remained the most fuel efficient machine available in the U.S. while it was produced and is still the leader of any current mass market car. The Insight earned an EPA fuel efficiency estimate of 70miles per US gallon (3.4L/ 100km; 84mpg-imp) in highway driving, 61mpg-US (3.9L/ 100km; 73mpg-imp) city. With air conditioning it was 66mpg-US (3.6L/ 100km; 79mpg-imp)/ 60mpg-US (3.9L/ 100km; 72mpg-imp). With a CVT it was 57mpg-US (4.1L/ 100km; 68mpg-imp)/ 56mpg-US (4.2L/ 100km; 67mpg-imp). Insight aficionados, the more extreme of whom are called "hypermilers", compete to eke out as many miles as possible from a tank.

Upon the Insight's release, Honda challenged several automotive magazines to a competition to see who could obtain the best fuel efficiency on the 195-mile (314km) drive from Columbus, Ohio to Detroit. The contest was won by Car and Driver magazine, which rigged a box behind a Ford Excursion, and had the Insight drive within the confines of the box. Without any wind resistance, the Insight made the trip with a fuel consumption of 121.7miles per US gallon (1.933L/ 100km; 146.2mpg-imp), while averaging 58miles per hour (93km/ h). A two-year test of an Insight with air conditioning, driven 40,000miles (64,000km), averaged 48miles per US gallon (4.9L/ 100km; 58mpg-imp).

Usage incentives

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in the United States, the Honda Insight was eligible for a US$1,450 tax credit.

In California, the state with the most-stringent fuel economy standards, the manual-transmission Insight was rated as an ultra-low-emission vehicle and the CVT transmission was rated Super-ultra-low-emission vehicle.

Replacement battery pack

As of October 2006, Honda was paying the replacement cost of these batteries on cars with up to 150,000miles (240,000km) of use.[citation needed] As of 1 June 2008, the replacement battery costs US$1,968 and installation is around US$900.

As of 2008, independent mechanics have been known to replace Insight batteries with either Prius sub-packs or Civic Hybrid subpacks. A US$300 used NiMH battery from another more mass produced HEV can be used to build a replacement Insight battery pack. Other independent mechanics have been reconditioning their old Insight battery packs to correct wear and tear issues. Reconditioning allows correction of some issues at lower cost than rebuilding a replacement pack from other used packs.[citation needed]

On September 4, 2008, Honda revived the Insight name and announced the second generation Honda Insight in the form of a 5-door hatchback charge-maintaining hybrid. The concept vehicle made its public debut at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. and its North American debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show

A new interactive, driver-focused fuel economy enhancement technology named the Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist) will debut on the new Honda Insight. Honda estimates fuel economy according to EPA testing methodology will be 40/ 43 mpg city/ highway.

The new Insight will go on sale in April 2009. Honda estimates worldwide sales of 200,000 units a year with 100,000 U.S. sales. Honda forsees other models of hybrid electric vehicles (e.g., a sports car) and estimates 500,000 annual hybrid sales worldwide by next decade. Prices for the Insight have not been announced, but are estimated between US$19,000 and US$22,000. Honda claims the new Insight will be the most affordable hybrid car in the world.

The Insight's engine won the International Engine of the Year award for 2000, and continued to hold the "Sub-1 liter" size category for the next six years. The Insight was nominated for the North American Car of the Year award for 2001.

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