It must be pretty galling for Honda that, despite being the first volume manufacturer to offer a hybrid car with the 1999 Insight, it's Toyota that has reaped the publicity benefit from selling this greener technology, not to mention substantial sales besides.
Honda's mistake was to sell the right hardware in the wrong package. The eccentric Insight two-seater appealed to relatively few, and the Civic hybrid looked far too similar to the standard car to score its owners nods of green approval from their peers.
Evidence that Honda has learned what Toyota discovered - that a hybrid is best sold with bespoke wrapping that announces to the rest of the world that this is a greener machine - has now appeared in the form of another car called Insight, though this time it's a five door, five seater, and with a design all its own.
It’s just one weapon in Honda's hybrid counter-attack, its intention being to sell half a million hybrids, or an eighth of its output of cars, annually by 2010. Other models include the production version of the CR-Z coupe, the spiritual successor to the original Insight, a hybrid Jazz supermini and a new version of the Civic hybrid.
That’s a bold aim, and one that might be that bit more difficult to achieve in the face of the growing realisation among the public that though hybrids have their advantages, they often fail to fulfil the promise of their official fuel consumption figures.
There’s evidence of this in Honda’s plan to include ‘a unique function to assist more fuel-efficient driving – helping driver’s to maximise their real world fuel consumption,’ a tacit admission of the problem with hybrids.
But whatever the challenges, it’s hard not to be impressed by Honda’s commitment to reducing emissions, which encompasses not only these cars but the semi-experimental fuel cell FCX Clarity, to which this new Insight bears more than a passing resemblance. If Honda succeeds, the face of the FCX and the Insight will symbolise a greener drive as effectively as the Prius does.