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Yaris-based hybrid is Toyota's cheap shot at Insight

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  March 25, 2009 02:35 PM

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Hybrid car shoppers should all thank Honda for shoving its $20,000 2010 Insight in Toyota's face, because the world's best-selling hybrid manufacturer has just switched to bargain mode.

Automotive News reported today that Toyota will sell a hybrid "low-priced spinoff" of its subcompact Yaris below the $19,800 base price of the Honda Insight, which made headlines months ago for planning to undercut the $22,000 base price of the Prius (it's now $2,200 lower). The model won't be ready until at least 2011.

Despite a third-generation Prius that boasts a combined 50 mile-per-gallon EPA rating, a more refined interior, and a sportier powertrain that now registers a pulse, Honda has seen record sales for its Insight, which from the side looks almost identical to the Toyota icon. In Japan, Honda has reported more than 21,000 orders, soaring past the company's 5,000 monthly target since the car went on sale in early February, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Insight arrived at US dealers yesterday.

As gas prices dwindled since last summer's high, many would-be hybrid buyers have swayed toward traditional, cheaper fuel-efficient cars instead, as witnessed by last year's 10.3 percent drop in US hybrid sales. The current Prius - which had greedy dealers charging as much as $5,000 over sticker, Edmunds said - now has some genuine competition, including the $27,200 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

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31 comments so far...
  1. "had greedy dealers charging as much as $5,000 over sticker"

    They are not so greedy when they discount, huh? and I'll bet that Edmunds did NOT use the word greedy. Clifford, it is customary for reporters to assume responsibility for your own views, not try to pass them along as if they belong to somebody else.

    Nothing wrong with charging what the market will bear. Last time I checked, a Prius was not a basic life necessity to justify price controls. You don't like the price, don't buy one.

    Posted by HBX March 25, 09 05:23 PM
  1. The Yaris is already tiny. Where will the hybrid battery be installed...on top of the only passenger seat?

    Posted by Mark March 25, 09 09:10 PM
  1. Your automotive reviews are the worst hybrid-hating Honda-biased crap I 've seen in all the years since hybrids cars arrived. you really should stick to reviewing high end "status" cars, something you obviously crave.

    Posted by Anonymous March 26, 09 12:31 AM
  1. Look for Honda to release the Fit in hybrid form. Much more roomy and fun to drive than the Yaris - that will be a winner!

    Posted by Dave March 26, 09 07:29 AM
  1. HBX, "charging what the market will bear" may bring the dealer a short term profit. It certainly will not endear him with the customer or lead to repeat business.

    What about the situation when the customer drives off the lot with his shiny new $5000 over sticker Prius and totals it in an accident on the way home. Do you think the insurance companies will pay the extra $5000?

    Posted by CR March 26, 09 07:49 AM
  1. I thought the new Insight was supposed to be significantly cheaper, like around $15k.

    I hate it when people say it's going to be less money to psyche people up and then it ends up not making that much of a difference.

    A new Insight with a few options runs right alongside the Prius in price.

    This new Yaris-based model will end up costing more than it intended audience can afford. I doubt it will be a big seller. Everytime I see a new hybrid from an existing model that ends up being significantly more expensive than even it's luxury trimmed model, it only makes me look into the gas engine model more.

    I'll be interested when prices get to a point where it's the same price for your choice of either hybrid or gas model. Then I'll choose hybrid.

    Posted by Andy March 26, 09 08:52 AM
  1. "The Yaris is already tiny. Where will the hybrid battery be installed...on top of the only passenger seat?"

    Well, that depends. Are they talking about the Yaris hatchback or the Yaris sedan. I have a feeling they will leave the hatch alone and will make a hybrid version of the sedan. How soon we forget how things used to be. The current Yaris sedan is FAR bigger than the Tercel ever was and is bigger than the Corolla was up until the previous generation. The Yaris could easily fit the hybrid battery (which is getting smaller each generation) in its trunk with plenty of room to spare. It is, after all, larger than the Lexus GS trunk....which they don't have a problem fitting the batter into.

    "I'll be interested when prices get to a point where it's the same price for your choice of either hybrid or gas model. Then I'll choose hybrid."

    That's like asking for a V6 Camry for the price of an I-4. Good luck with that. It makes NO sense for them to ever do that.

    Posted by Beantown Bronco March 26, 09 09:52 AM
  1. At least the Yaris is not another 4-door, 5 passenger vehicle. Most people who drive a hybrid do so to commute to/from work by themselves.

    Posted by Mike March 26, 09 10:35 AM
  1. "Most people who drive a hybrid do so to commute to/from work by themselves."

    Maybe they shouldn't....... And if they are anything like me, there are a wife and 3 kids waiting at home for a ride! Toss in an in-house in-law and even taht 5'er is too small. How about a reasonably priced minivan for the families of the world? with the milage I put on the family vehicle, even a few mpg's would pay big dividends. But I need seating for 6-7 that won't break the bank!

    Posted by Frisco2 March 26, 09 12:56 PM
  1. I agree that to focus on the smaller cars for hybrids is not the best idea...the hybrid in this size of a vehicle does not get *that* much better mileage than the gas car given the increase in cost and complexity...would be better to focus on replacing larger vehicles for a greater impact (ie Fusion, maybe a minivan, crossover, etc.).

    They should make instead an advanced gas powered yaris to *compete* with hybrids much like the old Honda civic VX (I think it was called) which achieved very good city and highway fuel economy with basic tricks like lean-burn, reduced idle speed, aerodynamics, gearing, weight reduction, etc. etc.

    Posted by carguy March 26, 09 02:33 PM
  1. "I agree that to focus on the smaller cars for hybrids is not the best idea...the hybrid in this size of a vehicle does not get *that* much better mileage than the gas car given the increase in cost and complexity...would be better to focus on replacing larger vehicles for a greater impact (ie Fusion, maybe a minivan, crossover, etc.). "

    Really? You might want to look at the numbers. It's the opposite, actually. The smaller cars get the most benefit from this technology.

    The Civic Hybrid gets 38% better city mileage and 20% better highway mileage than its gas equivalent.
    The Prius gets 46% better in the city and 23% better on the highway than the Corolla (even though it's bigger than the Corolla, it's the closest match).
    The Camry Hybrid gets 37% better in city and 9 % better on the highway than the regular Camry.
    The Highlander Hybrid gets 26% better in city and is actually rated worse on the highway than its gas equivalent.
    The Tahoe Hybrid gets 29% better in city and only 5% better on highway.

    So, as you can see, the real benefits come from the smaller cars. The bigger and heavier you get, the tougher it is for the hybrid batteries (in their current form) to make a real difference.....especially when you load them up with people and gear.

    Posted by Beantown Bronco March 26, 09 03:29 PM

    Posted by MICHELLE March 26, 09 11:41 PM
  1. Both Honda and Toyota SUCK and so soes anyone how drives them... BUY AMERICAN!

    Posted by Are you kidding? March 27, 09 06:47 AM
  1. Re: “Nothing wrong with charging what the market will bear.” Certainly nothing from a simple capitalistic point of view, I guess, but that doesn’t mean its not greedy to charge the customer more than what the manufacturer has determined is a fair price for its products. But he, the law has always been a useful tool to separate people without conscience from the ethical. Or the stupid. Or those who choose to be used (like you said they don’t have to buy it). I wonder if the dealer would feel used of they were asked to pay $10 per gallon of gas if the power went out for a couple of days or if they’d see it as just business?

    It isn’t like there is no profit on these cars if sold at “just” list price. (Though I’ve had dealers try to convince me that the price on the sticker is the price THEY pay!) I looked up the Prius and selling the car at list price stands to gain the dealer from $1100 to $2000+ profit per vehicle depending on model and options (from which they have to pay their expenses). That does not include the additional dealer incentives and plan adjustments they receive in addition. If the dealer would claim these margins aren’t enough one would have to see if they are similarly marking up the Corolla which has a similar $1050 to over $2000 difference between invoice and sticker price.

    Posted by Marie March 27, 09 09:11 AM
  1. So somebody explain to me why a company like Ford can sell a small family (decent design and room) vehicle in Europe that gets 35-41 mpg ( but we never see that type of vehicle over here. Never mind the diesels that get between 48 and 59 mpg. Buy American, sure, when they bring over a car I can use and stop trying to shove SUV's and even Crossovers that get 28MPG max down my throat. If you have any more than 2 children you "need" an SUV or MiniVan. No I don't , I need a car that comfortably fits more than 4 people and gets decent mileage. They still haven't figured that one out.

    Sure a Hybrid would be nice but they keep designing them to be smaller and smaller. How about something a family can drive as well.

    Posted by Options? March 27, 09 10:17 AM
  1. Beantown, my comment means to imply that the small gas cars are already getting good mileage and it would be better to focus hybrid tech. on larger vehicles (ie to bring them up to parity with the smaller vehicles) given the popularity of them on the road.
    I think by focusing on gas technologies the small cars can be improved to within a reasonably small variance in real world driving with that of the hybrids without the added complexity and cost. The Civic VX I mentioned is a car that was designed/sold 15+ years ago and achieved some very good mileage figures with fairly simple technologies.

    I think a lot can be done to improve (for economy) the systems in the larger vehicles you reference, the Tahoe for example as-is a fairly non-sophisticated "hybrid" system and it still has a large V8 gas engine. How would the figures look if they engineered the hybrid version with a direct-inject V6 with cylinder deactivation and a more robust hybrid assist? Or maybe instead used the Traverse or some other lighter crossover platform as the basis?

    The higlander "hybrid" on paper does not seem to be designed for economy at all...according to their website it has a 3.3l 208hp V6, a 167 hp front electric motor, and a 68hp rear electric motor. That is a lot of power given the base model gas version has a single 187hp 4-cylinder!

    Hybrids also make sense IMO for taxis, fleet vehicles, etc that spend a lot of time idling.

    Posted by carguy March 27, 09 10:38 AM
  1. Hey Are you kidding?

    Do you mean we should by cars made in America by Americans or cars made by American automakers? There is a significant difference you know.

    Posted by Anonymous March 27, 09 11:57 AM
  1. The japanese car companies fight it out and bring in better cars.. Good for the public..
    All the while detroit auto companies smoke pot and get wasted in all the money they stole from the public selling cheap stuff. Isn't it time for them to die?

    Posted by Hadji March 27, 09 12:10 PM
  1. Reply to Are you kidding:
    haha.. i agree. evryone should buy "Made in America" cars manufactured by non-american car companies.. That the entire planet will agree.. If you are trying to think otherwise, you can go ahead and buy.. But dont come back complaining that your steering wheel came off while driving on the highway.. LOL

    Posted by Hadji March 27, 09 12:13 PM
  1. I typed up a nice post that never made it so I will try again:

    Higlander hybrid and Tahoe are not what I would consider economy-optimized hybrids. The Tahoe has a big V8 and a crude hybrid sytem. The Highlander has a 3.3l 200+ hp V6, and TWO electric motors totaling nearly an additional 230 hp. The base gasoline-only version has a 187 hp 4-cylinder. Why the hybrid needs twice the peak power is beyond me.

    I think GM could use the direct-inject V6 with a smarter hybrid drive and see gains in mpg and also in pollution control. I think toyota could/should make a 4-cylinder hybrid version and would also see MPG gains.

    Given the volume of bigger vehicles on the road improving mileage here would haver a greater imact on overall fleet average and overall consumption...even if the percentages are not as extreme as you identified. Also fleet vehicles like taxis, city vans, etc. that idle a lot.

    The small cars should be optimized with some easy technology and push up their already good numbers. If the civic VX could achieve over 50mpg 15+ years ago, why can't they do even better now?

    Posted by carguy March 27, 09 02:38 PM
  1. The Prius right now can be bought for under sticker, the supply-demand crunch last year when gas was 4.20 a gallon was making a 1-2 day supply of Prius's on the lot right now they have 4-5 week supply of them in the lot. The demand is just not there.

    Posted by crystal March 27, 09 09:27 PM
  1. I just bought a 2009 Prius and so far I have 51.2 mpg. It costs me $17 for a tank of gas and that gets me roughly 450 miles. I had planned to wait for 2010 but my 95 Taurus died. It probably doesn't matter. I had heard that they were going to include a plug-in option but there is no electric outlet in the garage that I share with other Condo residents. It probably will have a high sticker price too.

    Posted by Mary March 28, 09 01:01 AM
  1. Toyota is planning even further cost cutting actions - many that do not seem fair:

    Posted by PM461 March 29, 09 09:43 AM
  1. As a car rental broker what is pleasing to see is that the car rental companies are now starting to look at the hybrid vehicles and the Japanese do seem to be leading the way. In America there are some large car rental companies who have mentioned that they will be using hybrid cars as they replace existing stock.

    Posted by John March 29, 09 01:28 PM
  1. go out and buy a skateboard

    Posted by dunnymoney March 29, 09 06:49 PM
  1. Carguy,

    Weight (from saftey equipment, etc) , Horse Power, and how the MPG was calculated 15 years ago is what is leading to the discrepancy.

    FYI The current gen prius (2004 - 2009 is most equivalent to the previous generation Toyota Matrix / Pontiac Vibe in terms of interior passenger room dimensions. However, The Prius was best compared to the previous generation Camry.

    Posted by abe March 29, 09 09:30 PM
  1. Just sat in a new Honda Insight--the interior feels cramped, ant I hit my head in the back (I'm only 5'8"). The Honda Fit is shorter, but has a LOT more room inside. Hard for me to justify the Insight's $3,000 premium over the Fit Sport. for 8 MPG difference overall (33 vs 41), or roughly 120 gallons over 15,000 miles/ yr.
    Even at $4/gallon, that will take 6 + years to pay off.

    Posted by Steve March 30, 09 12:13 PM
  1. Honda's rule. They retain their value over the life of the car. You drive a new Honda off the lot expect it to depreciate 5 to 8% of its overall value. GM, Ford, or Chrysler - 15% to 20%. Hmmm why is that? Markups aside, could it be that your paying for something that wasn't supposed to be factored into the cost of the car to begin with? Like maybe the health care of every worker who made that car? To make the price more competitive, American car companies cut the styling, the materials, the efficient engineering. Let's assume that you have a GM and a Honda of equal wear and tear. According to KBB, a $20K GM car depreciates after 5 years to $5K that 25% of the original value. A $20K Civic after 10 years sells for $4K that's 20% of original value. Almost twice as much life for the difference of 5%. This is the stuff they should teach in our schools!

    Posted by lolipopp March 31, 09 01:05 PM
  1. To #26:
    I agree that in general the weights of cars have gone up, but this is not the only factor.

    The gas yaris hatchback weighs 2300 lbs (with a manual) has a 105 hp 1.5l engine. The fuel economy specs are 29 city 36 highway.

    A 1995 Civic VX hatchback weighs 2100 lbs (with a manual) and has a 92hp 1.5l engine. So a very comparable power/weight and identical dispalcement, yet the fuel economy specs on the VX are 39 city / 50 highway (these are NEW figures, the original were 47/56)...and this is nearly a 20-year old design and a much simpler car to manufacture/fix than a hybrid!

    I would like to see the manufacturers build off of the VX-concept which could be further enhanced with modern technologies like variable valve and cam timing, direct fuel injection (to further enhance lean-burn concept), 6-speed gearbox (or CVT) etc. for the US-market. Of course it will cost more than the current yaris but I bet would be less expensive than the proposed hybrid version.

    Posted by carguy April 1, 09 09:20 AM
  1. The VX had variable valve timing. I owned one. It was a great car. I don't understand why my new yaris with vvt can't do as well with mpg.

    Posted by R April 13, 09 02:58 PM
  1. My 2009 Yaris hatchback has been getting me a consistent 42 mpg. I bought it for total cost of ownership. And yes, my 2-door hatchback fits four people comfortably (it has a nice back seat) and I can fold the seats down and haul 400 lbs of manure and peat moss for my garden). And yes, it was bagged up and on a blanket.

    Posted by Mark April 28, 09 09:29 PM

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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