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American Honda Motor Co. Inc. plans to kill the Insight hybrid this year.

The small, two-seat Insight, introduced in the United States in 1999, sold only 320 units in the first four months of this year. That compares with sales of 30,357 for the competing Toyota Prius, a family sedan embraced by environmentalists.

"Production will stop in September of this year and be discontinued," Honda Executive Vice President Richard Colliver revealed Wednesday, May 17, in a teleconference from Torrance, Calif.

Colliver said Honda is developing a new hybrid that will be smaller than the current Civic. But the new model will not appear until 2009.

The vehicle will be "suitable for family use" and will be priced below the current Civic Hybrid, says Honda CEO Takeo Fukui.

Fukui outlined plans for the new hybrid model as well as for the sale of diesel-powered cars in North America and Japan during a press conference on Wednesday.

He also said Honda plans new vehicle plants in the United States and Japan, a new engine plant in Canada, and a speed-up in its expansion in India.

Fukui said the new hybrid model will be built at Honda's Suzuka, Japan, plant. Honda aims for worldwide sales of about 200,000, including 100,000 in North America.

400,000 hybrids/year

Honda expects to reach those sales volumes "within about two years after sales start," Fukui says. Together with Honda's other hybrid-powered nameplates, the carmaker's hybrid sales then will total almost 300,000 worldwide, he says.

The new hybrid will be sold only as a Honda, says Koichi Kondo, Honda's senior managing director and COO for North American operations. There will not be an Acura version.

Even though half of the new hybrid's sales will be in North America, Honda did not consider building it there, Kondo says. "But we may have to in the future," he adds.

Honda also is developing a cleaner, next-generation version of its 4-cylinder diesel engine. That engine has been sold in Europe since 2004. The new engine will be on the market within the next three years.

Fukui says the engine will be sold in the United States and Japan as well as Europe.

The new diesel aims to meet stringent pending regulations in Europe and Canada that effectively require NOx emissions equivalent to those of a gasoline engine.

Dual diesels

Honda also is developing a clean V-6 diesel engine. That will be an all-new engine not based on the current 4-cylinder diesel.

The new diesels are not planned specifically for either the Honda or Acura brand, and could go in either brand's vehicles, Kondo says.

Fukui repeated his view that hybrid powertrains are most appropriate for small cars, and clean diesels for medium- and large-size cars.

The hybrid models and the diesel-powered cars are part of Honda's goal of reducing the carbon dioxide emissions of its fleet.

In 2000 on a global basis, Honda cars and trucks averaged 179.5 grams of CO2 exhaust emissions per kilometer traveled, or about 11.6 ounces per mile. Despite increased sales of larger-sized vehicles such as SUVs and minivans, Honda reduced its average CO2 emissions by 5 percent during the five-year period up to 2005.

Honda now targets a further reduction of 5 percent or more. It thus aims to achieve a total reduction of 10 percent by 2010 compared to the 2000 level.

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