Honda's Insight returning as a hybrid

TOKYO — Honda is bringing back the defunct Insight nameplate for a hybrid-only vehicle planned for the Japanese, European and North American markets early next year, as the automaker tries to catch up to rival Toyota.

Toyota Motor Corp. has been wildly successful by promoting the Prius as a hybrid-only model. Toyota has sold more than a million Prius cars over the past decade, and it also makes a Camry hybrid at its Georgetown, Ky., plant.

But the industry view is still divided on devoting a model to a hybrid.

Nissan Motor Co., which buys its hybrid system from Toyota but is developing its own gas-electric technology, is less bullish about hybrid-only models. It has said it probably will offer a hybrid version of one of its standard gasoline engine vehicles instead.

Honda's original Insight hybrid was introduced in 1999 and discontinued in 2006 after sluggish sales.

The reasons for its failure to catch on are unclear, but relatively high pricing, its unusual styling and other reasons may be to blame.

Honda will show a "concept model" of the Insight at the Paris Motor Show next month, Honda said in a statement. The design of the five-door hatchback compact is based on the sleek FCX Clarity, Honda's fuel cell vehicle.

Honda President Takeo Fukui has promised to keep the price difference between the Insight and a comparable gas engine model to within $1,900.