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Insight vs. Prius battle heats up

May 12, 2009 |  8:03 pm

Prius_v_insight_2  Head to the movies this summer and you’re going to see some battles.  Harry Potter vs. Lord Voldemort.  John Connor vs. angry motorcycles.  Mr. Spock vs. true fans.  But one more battle is shaping up to be a knock-down, drag-out slugfest:  the battle between Honda’s 2010 Insight and Toyota’s 2010 Prius.

Back in March, Honda struck first when it announced the pricing on its little eco-baby: $20,470.  It was a clear shot across the bow of Toyota, whose own green darling (the third-generation Prius) hits U.S. and Japanese dealers in a week or so, with a starting price of $22,750. 

Ostensibly, Honda’s bargain-bin pricing shook Toyota up a bit. 

In April, it announced, despite the fact that theaforementioned base Prius “provided more than $2,000 added value,” a super-cheap Prius would be available in the fall, with a slightly reduced MSRP of $21,750.

Then came Honda’s “populist” ad campaign, which nearly anyone with a TV has seen by now.  The ads feature Insights and their owners at the beach or an urban rooftop, multiplying like rabbits (the animal…not the car).  The narrator then tells you the car is “a hybrid for everyone.”  Given our advanced powers of deduction, we’ve surmised this means Honda thinks the Prius ain’t.  Ouch.

Then came Monday’s news that Honda’s Insight was the best-selling car in Japan for the month of April, making it the first hybrid to top the country’s monthly sales charts.  Maybe Honda is onto something with this hybrid-for-everyone kick.

Toyota, as you might have guessed, isn’t resting on its proverbial laurels. While Honda was touting its sales success on Monday, Toyota pulled the wraps off its new ad campaign, bearing the slogan “Harmony between man, nature and machine.”  A close look reveals that the flowers, clouds and sun are actually dancing people, animated, no doubt, by the fact that the car driving before them gets 50 mpg versus the Insight’s 41.  Expect to see the ad in heavy rotation.

Where won’t you see harmony?  Between the two automakers.  With the entire auto industry in dire straits, and Toyota posting its first annual loss since 1950, expect both companies to wage an all-out battle for your green dollars that would make even the Terminator proud. 

--David Undercoffler

On left: 2010 Honda Insight at the Washington D.C. Auto Show in February.

Credit:Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images

On right: 2010 Prius at Germany's Auto Mobil International Motor Show in March.

Credit: Eckehard Schulz / Associated Press