Jacquie Ottman's
Green Marketing Blog

Watch Out, Prius!

The Toyota Prius currently dominates the market for hybrid cars, but the Honda Insight wants to change that. Who will come out on top in 2009? By Jacquelyn Ottman, with Sarah McGrath

After selling 285,000 Priuses in 2008, Toyota’s star vehicle has taken a big hit in 2009—sales are down 45 percent since January. To compound Toyota’s hybrid troubles, Honda re-launched its Insight hybrid earlier this spring—right on the heels of the introduction of the Prius Third Generation. Based on our assessment of the marketing efforts behind the Prius and the Insight, we are confident that the new Insight will give Prius a run for its money.

The airwaves and print media have been swamped with splashy ads from both sides. Priuses drive through a landscape of people dressed up as dancing flowers and trees promoting “Harmony between man, nature, and machine.” The Insight motors down a road while legions of people cheerily pop up along the way—proving that the Insight is “A hybrid for everyone.”

Honda’s advertising focuses on affordability for “everyone”—somewhat more hard hitting than Toyta’s emphasis on the green aspects of driving a hybrid. The Insight’s $20,000 sticker price is $2,000 below that of the Prius. (To compete with the lower-priced Insight, a $21,000 Prius will be introduced later this year.)

Hybrid cars have largely outgrown their initial clientele of early adapters and deep green consumers. Both Toyota and Honda recognize that capturing the mainstream is critical for future success. But compared to Honda’s glamour shots of the Insight as a family car with lots of storage, the cutesy costumes and waving trees featured by Toyota seem to miss the mainstream message entirely.

Honda’s more practical focus makes the Insight a serious competitor for the Prius in this tough economy—and also a contender for long-term success.

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