The Honda Insight
The Honda Insight was the first domestically available Hybrid vehicle. It was a technological wonder in many ways, with aluminum body, three cylinder 1.0 liter engine plus IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) Honda’s name until present for their parallel Hybrid system), and an air cooled battery pack behind the two available seats. In the end, it was a niche car that produced fantastic gas mileage but appealed to only a very small percentage of the motoring public, as an odd looking two seater.
The Honda Civic and Accord Hybrids
These Honda vehicles were available in Hybrid and Non-Hybrid models. The normally nimble Honda Motor Company misjudged the personalities of the typical Hybrid buyers when they tried to capture market share from Toyota with their ‘more conventional Hybrid vehicles. While both Hybrid offerings were very solid vehicles with some remarkable technological achievements, neither one was groundbreaking in any manner.The Honda Civic Hybrid shared a Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT) with the Non-Hybrid car, but was also available in a manual transmission in its 1st Generation models (2003-2005). The 1st Gen Civic had valve pause on 3 cylinders as did the Honda Accord Hybrid. The Gen 2 Civic (2006-201 0) added valve pause to the 4th cylinder. Approximately 180,000 of these vehicles have been sold. The Accord Hybrid is very powerful, has excellent handling, quiet riding due to noise cancellation and electronic motor mount technology and the car is a joy to operate. The fuel economy is good, but not outstanding. Conservative driving staying below 66 mph yields 35-38 mpg though, a very reasonable figure. But the car sold poorly with perhaps 30,000 of them being placed in service in the 3 years of production (2005-2007).
The Toyota Prius, 1st Generation, 2001-2003
Toyota’s Gen 1 Prius was available in Japan in 1997 as a right-hand drive car but was not released in the US until 2001. Though Honda beat Toyota to the US market by one year, Toyota excelled with its introductory model. The Gen 1 Prius was built on the Echo platform and strongly resembles the Echo. But it behaves very much like a conventional vehicle though it is loaded with technological marvels. About 70,000 Gen 1 vehicles were sold and many of them currently have high mileage.The batteries in 2001 and 2002 vehicles are beginning to fail in sufficient numbers to justify learning to diagnose and replace the battery pack. Gen 1 Prius owners tend to be very loyal to their cars. The engines are solid with the usual Toyota quality and have very few problems with overheating due to their unique Atkison cycle. This type of engine utilizes most of the heat in gasoline to create energy. Note that none of the modules on the Gen 1 Prius are programmable, even though other Toyotas like the Camry ECU were programmable back to 2001.
The Toyota Prius, 2nd Generation, 2004-2009
Toyota’s Gen 2 Prius was a stand-alone Hybrid,not sharing the body style with any other car, unlike Honda that brought out the Civic Hybrid in 2003 in order to compete with Toyota’s highly conventional body style. About 700,000 of these cars were sold in the US from 2004 to 2009. Changes in the Gen 2 Prius were mainly in electronics, the engine and transmission are only slightly changed from the Gen 1, although the name “Hybrid Synergy Drive” was added. The addition of a heater storage tank and a wide range AF sensor helped Toyota to gain classification as a PZEV. As far as fuel economy is concerned, real world driving reveals the Gen 2 Prius to be only slightly better than the Gen 1, as in perhaps 1-2 mpg improvement. The disadvantage for many Prius lovers of the Gen 1 variety was the loss of the trunk in exchange for a hatchback. The battery pack was actually downsized, with significant weight savings, by 10 battery modules of 7.2 volts each, therefore the Gen 2 Prius has a nominal voltage of 201 as compared to 273 in the Gen 1. MG2 was also improved and now provides more power. Although the battery voltage was dropped, the inverter added a boost converter, something not present on the Gen 1, and actual AC voltages driving the motor generators may exceed 500 volts. Other sophisticated additions include the Smart Key system, electric AC compressor to enable Auto Stop to work under a broader range of conditions, CAN bus system for faster communications, and programmable modules.