Honda, known for innovative thinking, showed its J-VX concept car at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show. The vehicle had a petrol engine with an electric motor that assisted it, using Honda’s IMA system (Integrated Motor Assist). The 1999 Insight, while following the Toyota Prius (NHW10) in the Japanese market, made it to the US as that country’s first hybrid on retail sale. The aerodynamic, lightweight car was more advanced than the Prius; however, perhaps as a result of its small size, it did not make much of an impact sales-wise in the early part of the 2000s, well before fuel prices shot up in 2008.
For most of the first generation model’s run, it was overshadowed by the larger Prius, especially the distinctive NHW20 model. Honda’s attempt to replace the Insight with an IMA version of the Civic was relatively unsuccessful: buyers did not want a hybrid that had the same bodyshell as a standard petrol-engined car. The first-generation model was deleted in 2006.
In 2008, Honda showed a concept that had a similar silhouette to the original Insight, but had a larger five-door body akin to that of the Prius. Many journalists said it aped the Prius’s lines.
The second-generation Insight went on sale in February 2009 in Japan; it hit the US market seven weeks later and has proven to be a success. A third-generation model appeared in 2018.