While the Honda Insight has been selling extremely well in Japan, Toyota has had a few tricks up its sleeve to take on the fledgling (and less expensive) Honda Insight. Toyota's battle comes on three fronts, each making the Insight seem like less of a deal to Japanese buyers.
First, Toyota is keeping on the 2008-style Prius as Japan's cheapest hybrid, beating the Insight by a few hundred dollars at the base price. Second, they've significantly reduced the Japanese price points for the 2010 Prius. They're now selling the Prius in Japan with a base price of just over $20,000, about a thousand more than the Insight.
Of course, the Prius has enough extra features not included at the base price that the car could cost as much as $33,000, while the Insight tops out (entirely tricked out, with everything you can get) at $22,000. The trick, obviously, is to get someone in the driver's seat, and then remind them that all of those wonderful features they're enjoying will cost a lot extra.
But this last trick is what has me even more steamed. Toyota has managed, it seems, to hack Japan's efficiency test cycle. The Japanese model is calibrated specifically to Japan's low-speed, urban test cycle (with an average speed of 16 mph.) Toyota (and Honda) proved that they were good at this here in the U.S., and it looks like Toyota's done it again. While the 2010 Prius rates a combined 50 mpg here in America, the Japanese government has rated the car at 89 mpg.
Now, it's certainly possible that Japanese drivers will get better fuel economy than American drivers, just due to the average speeds on Japanese roads. But they will not get 89 MPG. This is just about as high as a highly trained hypermiler will get, and it's a little embarrassing for the Japanese government to have to stick that on the window when everyone knows it's inaccurate.
But Toyota isn't pulling any punches here. Why would someone pay $1,000 less for an Insight when they could get 40 MPG better with a Prius? Toyota wants to be the hybrid car company...they've gone so long without challengers that they're not about to give up without a fight. And it looks to me that, in Japan at least, they're going to win.
written by Tom, April 03, 2009
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