Many a word has been used to describe the 'hybrid war' brewing between the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, but in all honesty, there is no war. Yet.
While Honda will no doubt be keen to make an impact on Toyota?s hybrid market dominance, each will be more focused on winning new buyers to the segment than trying to inflict the 'killer blow' on the other. Besides, Toyota would argue that its more powerful and more expensive new Prius will occupy a different place in the market to the Insight.
That said, a cheaper (and stylish) hybrid is something Toyota can't let pass unchallenged. So, rather than sit on its hands, the Japanese manufacturer is busily concocting a vehicle it can put head-to-head with the Insight.
Working with an adaptation of the Yaris platform, the new hybrid should be an 'even-weight' match for the Insight with a 1.3 litre petrol engine coupled to a simpler version of the Prius? Hybrid Synergy Drive. If you picture a drivetrain along the lines of the first generation Prius then you?ll probably be close to the mark.
Chief Engineer for the third generation Prius, Akihiko Otsuka, spoke to Automotive News about the project. ?We are developing a low-priced hybrid vehicle like Honda?s Insight, we are going to compete by expanding our hybrid-vehicle line-up to smaller hybrids, in the class of the Vitz and Yaris.?
So far though, the rest of the pre-Prius package remains a mystery. You can expect Toyota to incorporate its usual hybrid styling cues in a new wind-cheating body, but whether that body is a sedan, hatch or mini-MPV, remains to be seen.
Honda can breathe a sigh of relief for the moment though with the new Toyota not due until 2011. By that time Honda will also have ready a hybrid version of its Jazz, to slot in beneath the Insight.
Then it will be 'on'.