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Honda Insight Concept and Development


The concept of the Insight and the reasons for its development are as uniquely Honda as the vehicle itself. As a company, Honda has traditionally believed that automobiles should operate in harmony with their environment and society. This philosophy has prompted continuous research and product development in the field of low-emission, high-mileage vehicles over the past 25 years. One of the earliest results of this work was the 1975 Honda CVCC Civic. Its special Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion allowed it to meet the new emissions regulations of the time, without the need for a catalytic converter. The 1985 Honda 1.3-liter CRX HF was the first "high-mileage" Honda, followed by the 1992 Honda Civic VX, with its lean-burn, VTEC-E engine. And in 1996 Honda introduced the Civic HX Coupe. The HX Coupe's VTEC-E engine and highly efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT) made it the first automobile equipped with an automatic transmission to make it into the EPA's top ten list.

Research into electric propulsion resulted in the development of the Dream series of solar-powered racers in 1990, 1993 and 1996, and the EV PLUS in 1997. Currently, Honda produces a range of high-mileage and low-emission vehicles for sale, including the LEV Civic, the ULEV Accord and the near-zero-level-emission Civic CX. Even the Honda S2000 sports car, which has the highest power output-per-liter of any normally aspirated engine in the world, meets California's strict Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) standard.

Many people believe that the automobile's impact on society and the environment in the near future will require that it become increasingly cleaner and more efficient. One possibility that holds promise for dealing with these challenges is the "hybrid" automobile, which includes various combinations of gasoline-engine- and electric-motor-powered automobiles. A hybrid takes advantage of the best traits of each power system - the clean nature of electricity, and the high-performance, unlimited range and convenient infrastructure of the internal-combustion engine. Honda conducts continuous research into numerous alternative automotive propulsion systems, including hybrid systems, and believes that this technology is now mature enough to introduce in Honda automobiles. The result is the Honda Insight - the first production gasoline-electric hybrid automobile available in the United States.

Having decided on using a hybrid gasoline-electric propulsion system for the Insight, the first step in its development was to identify a set of performance goals for the car. The highest fuel economy possible was the overall goal. Honda engineers set their sights on 70-plus miles per gallon and above. Ultra-low emissions were an equally important engineering goal, as well as safety and performance. Honda engineers wanted the Insight to have a level of performance comparable to that of a 1.5-liter engine automobile. Finally, the Insight, like all Hondas, would have to be durable, reliable and built to Honda standards of quality, comfort and driveability.

The challenge was that, traditionally, several of these engineering goals, such as fuel economy, low emissions, performance and safety, were viewed as mutually exclusive. For example, as a vehicle is engineered to be safer, it usually becomes heavier, which compromises performance and fuel economy. Increased performance adversely affects fuel economy, etc. Clearly, Honda engineers would have to find new solutions if they were to satisfy all their goals.

Weight-reducing technologies were seen as a key factor in solving these challenges. A light vehicle can reach a given level of performance with less power than a heavier vehicle. To minimize vehicle weight, Honda engineers specified that the Insight be made from aluminum and plastic. Here Honda's experience building the Acura NSX paid off, because Honda engineers were able to develop new design and construction techniques, such as the use of extrusions and castings in the body. The extensive use of aluminum and plastic in the Insight's body results in a weight of 1,856 pounds, giving it the performance of an automobile with a 1.5-liter engine, but without the attendant fuel-consumption penalties.

Body rigidity and strength have also been enhanced, thanks to Honda's experience designing and building with aluminum. The Insight boasts greater strength than a comparably sized steel vehicle.

The IMA system's compact, 1.0-liter gasoline engine's high fuel efficiency comes from its use of Honda VTEC-E lean-burn combustion technology and advanced friction-reduction techniques. Additional fuel efficiency comes from the IMA system's electric motor, which assists acceleration (an application for which its low-rpm torque characteristics are ideally suited). Since it is not designed to be the vehicle's primary drive, it too can be made smaller and lighter, and is only 60 mm (2.3 in.) in width. Electric power for the motor is mostly supplied by the recycled energy of regenerative braking, and is stored in another technological feature that Honda first introduced in its EV PLUS electric car: nickel-metal hydride batteries. The battery pack and its electronic controller can also be smaller and lighter, since they are not required to power the entire vehicle by themselves.

At highway speeds, fuel efficiency is further enhanced by the IMA system's highly efficient engine, aerodynamic body and special low-rolling-resistance tires.

The body and interior packaging for the Insight center around creating a personal car, designed to be primarily used in an urban setting, much like the class of urban cars appearing in Europe. The result is a stylish, sporty coupe that is distinctive, clean and modem. A smart vehicle - fun to drive, practical, and efficient, which also seeks to minimize its environmental impact.

The first version of the Insight was the JV-X concept car, introduced at the 1997 Tokyo and Los Angeles auto shows. Further refinement of the concept led to the VV concept car, first shown at the 1999 North American Auto Show in Detroit. Market research conducted at the auto shows, and later in focus groups, indicated that the demographic profile of potential Insight customers fell mainly into three groups:

The first group are those people who are attracted by the Insight's advanced technology. They are 48 years old on average, and are more likely to be married (75%) and male (70%). Their household incomes are high, averaging $75,000 and above, they tend to be college-educated, and are most likely to be an engineer or other professional.

A second group of potential customers for the Insight is different from the first. They are young, single urban drivers averaging around 18 to 25 years old, about half of this group is male and half female. Household incomes are lower than the first group, but still high, averaging around $45,000, and roughly 40% are college graduates. This group consists of college students and people just entering the workforce. For them, the Insight offers a distinctive, sporty, comfortable vehicle for commuting and travel.

A third group of potential Insight customers are family-fleet buyers. These are established families who already own one or two automobiles. This group is similar to the first group in that the majority of users are male (75%), and about 50% are college educated, with household incomes around $55,000. They too tend to be professional, and are also more likely to be retired. For them the Insight's appeal is its high fuel efficiency and simplicity of operation.