Honda's Prius-fighter

New five-seat hybrid-only Insight will go on sale in the United States this spring.

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by Peter Valdes-Dapena, senior writer

Honda Insight concept

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NEW YORK ( -- Honda Motor Co. unveiled a pure-hybrid concept car Thursday that hopes to go head to head with Toyota's wildly popular Prius.

The carmaker showed images of the Insight that will go on sale in the United States in the spring, it said. The car, which will be sold only as a hybrid, will be a five-seat hatchback and will be priced "significantly below hybrids available today," Honda said in an announcement.

The only hybrid car now on sale here that is available only as a hybrid is the Toyota Prius.

Hybrids, like the Prius and Insight, use electric motors to assist a gasoline engine in powering the car. Electricity to power the electric motors is generated during braking and from the gasoline engine.

Toyota sold more than 180,000 Priuses in the U.S. in 2007, making it America's most popular hybrid car and Toyota's third best-selling car after the Camry mid -size car and Corolla compact. Honda sold 32,500 Civic Hybrids that year.

Insight was also the name of a two-seat hybrid car Honda introduced in the U.S. in 1999. It was the first hybrid sold here.

The two-seat Insight had the highest fuel economy of any vehicle available in the U.S. at that time. Under current EPA test procedures, it would have been rated at 63 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, compared with 46 for a Toyota Prius.

Nevertheless, very few were sold as customers turned instead to the roomier Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid, introduced in 2002. In 2005 just 666 Insights were sold. Honda stopped selling it in 2006.

"The original Honda Insight pioneered hybrid technology in the U.S. and remains a symbol of Honda's commitment to innovative technology and fuel efficiency," said Takeo Fukui, Honda Motor Co. CEO, in a corporate announcement.

The new Insight is expected to have an improved version of Honda's "Integrated Motor Assist" hybrid system, a version of which was used on the original Insight and in the Civic Hybrid.

Honda did not release a specific price for the new Insight or expected fuel economy figures. The car will be officially unveiled at the Paris International Auto Show on Oct. 2.

Honda expects to sell 100,000 Insights in the U.S. per year and 200,000 worldwide.

In addition to the Insight, Honda also plans to introduce a unique "sporty" hybrid vehicle, the company said. The company did not announce when it plans to introduce that vehicle.

Honda expects total hybrid sales of 500,000 vehicles or more than 10 percent of its worldwide annual sales, the company said. To top of page

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