In less than a decade, hybrid cars have secured an important place in motoring history by their offering a much-needed 'green' option to conventional petrol-engined motor cars. This aims to partly address increasing community concerns about the polluting effects of the motor car, especially in congested urban areas of the world's major cities.
Hybrid cars are powered by at least two forms of fuel, usually petrol and electricity, to help meet the immediate need for more efficient, less polluting personal motorised transport. While more exotic forms of powering cars of the future (such as fuel cells powered by pure Hydrogen) are under long term development, hybrid technologies are a short to medium term option that use the existing technology of petrol or diesel engines combined with advanced forms of electrical power storage, charging and regeneration.
The Honda Insight was the first petrol-electric hybrid car to be sold in the United States, where it has won many awards including the most fuel-efficient car in America in 1999, 2000 and 2001. When it was released in March 2001, the Honda Insight was also the first petrol-electric hybrid car to be offered for retail sale in Australia.
This car was the first hybrid vehicle to arrive in Australia. It is a pre-production car and therefore has no compliance plate. It was displayed at Scienceworks (part of Museum Victoria) and at Honda Australia's head office, both in Melbourne.
Hybrid cars have had some success in meeting the various claims made of them and in meeting the expectations that have been generated by their manufacturers and the motoring press. Most importantly, they have achieved impressive results in their fuel efficiency at very low carbon emission levels.
However, they have been criticised for their relatively high cost, odd design and their ordinary driving characteristics. The Honda Insight in particular suffered from buyer resistance to its high purchase price, in Australia as elsewhere, and sales suffered as potential buyers assessed the economic costs versus the environmental gains.
Many car makers have invested heavily in the development of hybrid technology. World leaders in this technology are the Japanese companies Toyota and Honda, while other car makers such as Ford, General Motors, BMW and Volvo have entered the field more recently.