Learning from Tesla, green cars go stylish

In 1999, Honda (HMC) introduced the first gas-electric hybrid in the U.S. -- ahead of even Toyota's (TM) Prius. Called the Insight, that car was strong on gas mileage but weak on comfort and style. Now with its new 2019 Insight -- introduced this week at the Detroit Auto Show -- Honda is adding curvy looks and a comfortable cabin to that high MPG.

honda-insight.jpg

Honda Insight Prototype

Honda

"Automakers are starting to learn from Tesla that a sleek, sophisticated design is essential if you're going to attract buyers to green cars," said Jessica Caldwell, director of industry analysis for Edmunds.com. "The reworked Honda Insight gives some hope that the outdated aero-wedge will soon be a thing of the past," she added, referring to the silhouette used by the original Insight, the Prius and others to minimize wind resistance.

The Tesla (TSLA) style has  clearly registered with American auto owners. A survey for Gold Eagle, maker of automotive chemicals, asked respondents what their ideal dream car would be. For the Northeast, Southwest and Pacific Coast, as well as for men overall, the top  answer was the Tesla Model S. The Midwest, Southeast and women overall preferred the Ford (F) Mustang.

In her 2018 forecast for the auto industry, Caldwell predicts that the market share for green cars -- gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles -- will reach 4.4 percent for the first time.

Insight will join other hybrids and electrics in the Honda lineup including the Clarity Electric, Clarity plug-in hybrid and the redesigned-for-2018 Accord Hybrid.

Here's a closer look at the details of the new Insight.

  • The new Insight has a wide and low stance with a sleek, coupe-like profile even though it's a four-door, five-passenger sedan. Honda said the Insight will have a full-size trunk despite allowing for the battery pack needed in all hybrids.
  • The Insight will be powered by a combination of an electric motor and a 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine designed for fuel efficiency. Honda expects the Insight to get an EPA rating of 50 MPG or more for combined city and highway driving.
  • Even though the Insight on display is called a prototype, a  production model is expected to go on sale later this year. No price has been announced. But Honda says Insight will be positioned as a premium compact just above the Civic. Prices for the 2018 Civic range from $18,840 to $34,100.
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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.