From 1999 to 2006, Honda made an odd little two-seater hybrid car called the Insight. It got 60 miles a gallon but didn’t sell. It was too slow to be a sports car, too small to be a family car, and as a gas sipper — well, gas was, by today’s standards, cheap. Times change. At the Paris Auto Show next month, Honda says it will show a "concept" version of a new Insight, now grown to a five-door hatchback. It will go on sale in 2009 as a 2010 model, the company says. Various car watchers suggest Honda plans a sticker price around $18,500, and expects to sell 100,000 of the cars in the United States. In a Japanese test it got 70 miles a gallon, but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tests usually come up with lower numbers. If the new Insight bears more than a passing resemblance to the Toyota Prius, that’s no accident. The bulbous shape is partly dictated by aerodynamics — and partly, no doubt, by a wish to steal market share from Toyota. (You’d be lucky to find a Prius for $23,000; if anything, you’d be lucky to find one at all in a dealer’s lot.) If I had a nickel for every site that called the Insight a "Prius fighter"…. There are plenty of other Prius fighters out there, with auto companies committed despite the recent drop in crude oil prices. Meanwhile, Ken Bensinger of the L.A. Times has a piece about so-called hypermilers, trying to get the best gas mileage they can, and profiles a man named Darius Tarman –a self-described car lover who’s now wringing 61 miles a gallon out of a 1992 Honda Civic VX. The piece points out that for all the auto companies’ attention to fuel economy, today’s most efficient cars get less than the most economical ones of 15-20 years ago. The car companies say people are demanding air conditioners, power windows and more powerful engines.
"For the 1992 model year," Bensinger reports, "car buyers had the choice of 33 cars that had a combined city and highway EPA rating of at least 30 miles per gallon. For the current model year, there are 12."