Honda's cheap hybrid in demand

TOKYO — Honda Motor Co. said Monday that demand for the Insight, the cheapest hybrid vehicle on market, is soaring in Japan with orders topping its monthly target of 5,000 in just over a week.

The Insight gas-electric hybrid, which starts only at 1.89 million yen ($21,000), hit showrooms across Japan on Feb. 6. The launch of the cheapest hybrid vehicle came amid a devastating slump in the global auto market.

But Japan's No. 2 automaker said demand for the Insight has been so brisk that the company has received more than 5,000 orders, easily beating its monthly target.

"This is so much better than expected. The Insight is priced below 2 million yen, and is energy efficient. We believe consumers like these aspects," said Honda spokeswoman Natsuno Asanuma.

Even before the launch, Honda had received about 5,000 orders for the Insight, Asanuma said. The Insight goes on sale in April in the United States and in March for Europe.

Honda's Insight is cheaper than Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius, the most popular hybrid, which sells for $22,000 in the U.S. and 2.3 million yen in Japan.

Hybrids tend to be more expensive than regular cars because they come packed with both a gasoline engine and an electric motor. Switching between the systems, depending on speed, boosts mileage.

Toyota sold 285,700 Prius cars worldwide last year, and will introduce a remodeled Prius starting in May. The new Prius is bigger and has a more powerful engine than the current one, and likely to be more expensive.