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Honda's High Hopes for Hybrids

Which Japanese automaker embarrassed Detroit by launching the first hybrid in the U.S.? Not the one you probably think. Toyota (TM) may get all the attention now, but the hybrid pioneer honors originally went to Honda (HMC), which beat Toyota to the market with the first gas-electric car, the Honda Insight, in 1999. That's why Honda execs must be steamed by Toyota's May 15 announcement that it has sold more than 1 million Prius hybrids.

The all-conquering icon of the green movement accounted for 51% of U.S hybrid sales last year. Meanwhile, the Insight is now extinct, Honda having axed it two years ago. What's more, Honda hasn't enjoyed much success with its hybrid versions of the Civic and the Accord (, 12/19/07).

Honda still hopes to reinvigorate its hybrid efforts, though. On May 21, Honda gave more details on how it plans to close the gap with its archrival by launching a host of new models, including a gas-electric version of the popular Fit subcompact. Speaking at a press conference at Honda's Tokyo headquarters, CEO Takeo Fukui said that by the early 2010s Honda aims to sell 500,000 hybrids a year. "Hybrids have drawn attention for their image, but the time has come to go to the next step," Fukui told reporters.
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