Visitors to the 2009 Melbourne Motor Show will get a sneak peak into the future with the unveiling of the world’s most affordable hybrid, the Honda Insight concept, which is making its Southern Hemisphere debut.
First seen at the Paris Motor Show (Mondial de l'Automobile) in 2008, the production version of the all-new Insight was recently introduced in North America and Japan.
Honda plans to introduce the production version of the Insight to the Australian market in the near future.
The five-door, five-passenger hatchback features a lightweight, compact hybrid system that combines exceptional fuel economy with fun-to-drive performance.
Designed to set the standard for compact cars for a new era, the Insight concept combines outstanding environmental performance with fun, responsive driving and efficient, versatile packaging. The all-new Honda Insight was developed with the goal to provide these attributes in a car that is affordable for more customers across the globe.
Offering exceptional fuel economy, the Insight features a newly developed hybrid system including a 1.3-litre i-VTEC engine and Honda’s proprietary Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). The aerodynamic body achieves a world-leading coefficient of drag of 0.28*. To further support fuel-efficient driving, the Insight features the Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist) as standard equipment on all variants.
The name Insight was chosen to denote that this new vehicle provides ‘insight’ into a new era in which hybrid vehicles come within reach of most car buyers.
MAKING IT AFFORDABLE
The Insight is the culmination of over 20 years of hybrid development and more than 35 years of lower impact petrol engine development, which started with the CVCC engine in the Honda Civic in 1972.
The Honda Civic was the first car in the world to be awarded the US Clean Air Act 1970.
That experience and technical knowledge has enabled Honda to develop the components and parts in the IMA system so they can be produced at a lower cost.
Honda has also been building production hybrids for a decade. In that time, a lot has been learnt about the production of electric motors and other key parts of the hybrid system. This understanding has led to improved production equipment and techniques, which will reduce production costs. And because the major hybrid components are produced in-house, this also helps to control overall costs.
“Our engineers have shown great tenacity and skill in reducing the cost of our IMA system to allow us to reduce the build costs of the Insight. By using so many components that are manufactured in-house, we have the ability in the market to continuously refine our processes in a way an outside supplier might not.” Yasunari Seki, Honda Insight Large Project Leader.
The plan to produce and sell a much larger number of hybrid cars than before leads to economies of scale, and thus a lower final cost per unit. To achieve these numbers, a new electric motor production line has been added to the Suzuka factory, in Japan, which will double its per hour production capacity for IMA motors.
There are also specific product developments that helped keep the costs down:
All the cost-saving doesn’t mean cutting corners or compromising on performance or durability. Engineers have focussed on finding engineering solutions to drive costs down, developing the most efficient hybrid technology at the lowest possible cost to the customer.
THE MOTIVATION FOR BUILDING AN AFFORDABLE HYBRID
A key part of Honda’s global philosophy is to be “a company that society wants to exist”. And while that may at first sound like another piece of marketing strategy speak, it is a mantra that is followed the world over, starting with the R&D centres.
This philosophy helps explain why the marketing of a more affordable hybrid car; is part of Honda’s efforts to have a positive impact on society.
Honda could have chosen to place this cleaner technology in high-end cars; showpiece environmental machines to sell at a premium rate to a low number of customers. There’s probably an argument that says there’s more money per unit in that approach.
However, in line with Honda’s philosophies, beliefs and heritage, the approach was to bring low emission hybrid technology to the masses by using our engineering experience to reduce the costs and therefore the retail price.
As well as introducing new sections of society to cleaner cars, this should also help increase the sales volume of hybrid cars – which will have a positive effect on overall emissions figures, and therefore the environment.
The exterior evokes the design of Honda’s flagship for environmental performance, the zero emissions FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle. The line traversing the middle of the body in a single motion emphasises the low vehicle height, contributing to a sporty design. The high tail adds to both the aerodynamic performance and the stylish look of the Insight.
The interior is advanced and futuristic-looking and features a two-tiered instrument panel divided vertically, allowing the driver to access important information at a glance. The interior features elegantly contrasting colors, textures and materials to further emphasise the futuristic hybrid feel.
The Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) proprietary hybrid system offers exceptional fuel economy and extremely low emissions. The petrol engine serves as the main power source while the electric motor provides additional power as needed.
Offering exceptional fuel efficiency and ample torque, the 1.3-litre i-VTEC engine now features Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) for the first time, which controls the idling of all cylinders. The combination of engine and motor offers the consistent responsiveness and acceleration performance one might expect from a 1.5-litre engine.
The ultra-thin DC brushless motor is approximately 22% thinner and approximately 15% lighter than previous-generation technology**.
Adjusting to driving conditions and battery charge level, the Power Control Unit (PCU) optimally controls the power assist and electrical regeneration functions of the electric motor.
As compared to previous-generation technology, the modules of the high-output nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery feature a 30% enhancement in both output and durability, allowing for a decrease from 11 modules to 7**. As a result, while providing ample output and capacity for the motor, the battery is approximately 31% more compact and approximately 35% lighter than previous-generation technology**.
Composed of the PCU and battery, the Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) is approximately 19% more compact and approximately 28% lighter than previous-generation technology** allowing for placement of the IPU beneath the rear cargo area and more-efficient packaging overall.
The compact, efficient, Honda Multimatic S continuously variable transmission (CVT) helps the Honda hybrid system produce even more torque and achieve even higher fuel efficiency. In off-the-line acceleration, the CVT engages at lower rpms, enhancing acceleration performance and fuel-efficiency at the same time.
In braking, accelerating and cruising, the Insight optimises the combination of engine valve operation and motor assist for precise energy management. As a result, the Insight offers both high fuel economy and fun driving in a wide variety of driving conditions. To further enhance fuel efficiency, the Insight features idle stop capability
ADVANCED ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGIES
To help Insight owners realise the full benefits of Honda hybrid technology, the new Ecological Drive Assist System (Eco Assist) is included as standard equipment on all models. Eco Assist combines multiple functions:
With the available Honda HDD InterNavi System, a driver can access a full history of personal scoring function results and additional detailed scoring statistics. InterNavi customers may also access via the Internet a detailed fuel-efficiency assessment of their driving practices, a history of their fuel-efficiency scores, their ranking among subscribers throughout Japan and other information relevant to fuel-efficient driving.
The lightweight, aerodynamic body is compact with a low overall height. Thanks to the aerodynamic design and meticulous wind tunnel testing of all exterior parts as well as specially designed aerodynamic underbody parts, the Insight boasts a world-leading coefficient of drag* 0.28, and outstanding overall aerodynamic performance.
Unique to the Insight and designed to accommodate the IPU beneath the rear cargo area, the body features high rigidity in the rear frame and floor, contributing to safety and vehicle stability during cruising. With a 52% high-tensile steel content***, the frame is highly lightweight and rigid.
The production version of the Insight features Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure as well as front, side and curtain airbags to help reduce the risk of head injury in a side impact. Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), which assists the driver in maintaining control during cornering, is also standard equipment.
HONDA HYBRID HISTORY
Honda first marketed the original Insight Hybrid in 1999 and has been working on the technology for almost two decades.
The motivation behind pursuing this technology is fundamental and basic, avoiding waste. In simple terms, the energy from braking on a car with a conventional drivetrain is lost by being converted into energy that disappears into the atmosphere as heat and noise. The task Honda’s R&D engineers set themselves was to harness this energy to the benefit of the customer and the environment.
One decade on, Honda is launching a new Insight that takes those core principles and extends them, allowing a customer to carry their family and luggage in an efficient, flexible and affordable vehicle.
THE DIRECTION OF THE HONDA INSIGHT
The aim was to make petrol-electric technology available to more people by developing a family hybrid car that was more affordable.
The Insight is a 5-door hatchback with Honda’s IMA hybrid system that offers low-emission, fuel efficient motoring in a practical, no-compromise offering –to make an attractive, lower cost package.
Honda expects this car to have a significant impact on the industry. Because the Insight will be more affordable to more people, it makes cleaner car technology accessible to a completely new group of car buyers – opening the hybrid market to a new section of society.
That’s why the main aim in the development to reduce the size, complexity and price of components and systems to drive that final retail price down. Honda wants to bring hybrid technology to a wider market, but knows that the price, or the perceived price, of cleaner cars has prevented some car buyers from even looking at them seriously. Honda wants those people who’ve never considered buying a hybrid car to try one for size.
It is one thing to develop an ultra-green product, that only the affluent can afford, but in its quest to be a company that society wants to exist, Honda challenged its engineers to build a hybrid for everyone.
* Five-passenger production automobiles (Honda calculations)
** As compared to the 2006 Civic Hybrid
*** By-weight comparison
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