DETROIT -- Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito has challenged his r&d staff: Develop a hybrid that exceeds the fuel economy of the Toyota Prius.
Ito said a new hybrid would not necessarily be a next-generation version of Honda's recently launched Insight hybrid but perhaps another vehicle in the Honda lineup.
"We want to develop and expand our hybrids," Ito, 56, said during an interview at the Detroit auto show. "We made some major sacrifices to shift people and resources to do that."
Honda is ready to expand its small-vehicle hybrid system to other platforms, but Ito said Honda's large-vehicle hybrid platform is not ready.
Not that Toyota is sitting still. At the Detroit show, it unveiled the FT-CH concept, a hybrid hatchback shorter than the Prius. Toyota declined to say whether the vehicle will reach production.
Honda executives have been disappointed by sales of the Insight since its U.S. launch last March.
Although the Insight undercuts the Prius by $2,500, the Prius outsold the Insight 139,682 to 20,572 in 2009.
The Insight's 40/43 city/highway fuel economy rating for the U.S. also falls short of the Prius' 51/48 rating.
American Honda Motor Co. executives also have expressed their disappointment at the Insight's initial sales figures and have called for a new marketing approach.
"Are we happy with how sales are going? No, we're not happy," said John Mendel, American Honda's executive vice president, in an interview last month.
Honda's initial 90,000-unit sales goal was revised to 60,000.