It’s fair to say that the Honda Insight has not been living up to expectations. Despite excellent fuel economy and a futuristic interior, Honda’s compact hybrid hasn’t done much to dent sales of its major rival, the Toyota Prius.
Honda once boasted a goal of selling 90,000 Insights during the vehicle’s first year on the market but was on track to achieve less than a third of that target by summer’s end.
Though Honda claims the Insight was never intended to compete directly with the Prius, the two hybrids share a windswept, five-door profile and are frequently cross-shopped. The Honda’s 41 mpg rating falls short of the Toyota’s 50 mpg, but the Insight is priced about $2,000 less.
To combat the Insight’s free-falling sales, Autocar reports that Honda will make changes to boost fuel economy. New software will triple the amount of time the hybrid’s start/stop system can leave the engine off when the vehicle is stationary and in the driver-selectable Eco mode.
The current software assumes worst case scenario conditions: five passengers on board in near-tropical levels of humidity. Conditions like these force the Insight’s gasoline-powered engine to fire up after only 30 seconds of rest so that the air conditioner can dehumidify the cabin and keep the windows from fogging. The new software extends the engine-off time to as much as 90 seconds, saving more fuel.
Honda’s new software will no doubt improve the Insight’s mileage in the real world, but it’s unlikely that this change will have a positive impact on the official EPA rating that appears on the Monroney Label window sticker. Those government test procedures require all vehicles to run in default mode, effectively rendering the Eco mode off-limits.
While the Insight’s new software will be nice to have for owners trying to maximize their fuel savings, it’s unlikely to steal many sales away from the popular Prius.