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AUTOS

Honda's pricey Accord hybrid runs out of gas

June 05, 2007|Martin Zimmerman | Times Staff Writer

Hybrid sales are booming, but Honda Motor Co. is pulling the plug on the gasoline-electric version of its Accord sedan.

Honda said Monday that the Accord hybrid would be discontinued after the 2007 model year, the victim of a high sticker price and unremarkable gas mileage.

"The reason it didn't sell is because the price premium wasn't justified by the gas mileage," said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with automotive website Edmunds.com.

Honda sold a measly 439 Accord hybrids in the United States last month. By contrast, Toyota Motor Corp. sold 24,009 of its less-expensive, segment-leading Priuses. And sales of hybrid vehicles as a segment more than doubled this year, while the overall market for new vehicles is flat.

Outfitted with a six-cylinder engine and heated leather seats, the Accord hybrid was positioned as a gas-electric for the performance crowd when it was introduced in 2004 -- with a price to match.

The base sticker on the 2007 model is $31,685, compared with $26,820 for its closest competitor, the Toyota Camry hybrid sedan.

Those extra dollars don't provide much relief at the gas pump.

The Accord's combined city-highway mileage of 31 miles per gallon is respectable for any car but hardly in the same league with the Prius at 55 mpg or Honda's own Civic hybrid at 50 mpg.

And it's not much better than the 28 mpg delivered by the four-cylinder nonhybrid Accord.

Even Ford Motor Co.'s hybrid Escape SUV can do better, rolling along at a combined 34 mpg.

As Honda learned, people who buy hybrids tend to focus on one number, and it isn't horsepower. "It's been our experience that hybrid customers respond to high fuel economy numbers," spokesman Sage Marie said Monday.

It was a rare misstep for Honda, which has built a reputation for producing a line of solid, if not spectacular, vehicles known for delivering reliability and good gas mileage.

"Almost everything they've done here has worked, and this is just a minor setback," said Tom Libby, an auto industry analyst at J.D. Power & Associates.

Honda said dropping the Accord hybrid wouldn't damage its ranking as the automaker with the best fleetwide fuel economy in the North American market -- a distinction earned in part because its lineup doesn't include the monster SUVs and pickup trucks that drag down the results even for automakers like Toyota.

The Accord move doesn't signal an end to Honda's commitment to hybrids, which it introduced to the U.S. market in 1999 with the Insight, which was also discontinued.

The Japanese automaker is pushing hard to increase sales of its Civic hybrid and plans to introduce a car within two years that will take on the Prius as a purpose-built hybrid.

martin.zimmerman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Vehicle comparison

A selection of hybrid vehicles, ranked by year-to-date sales.

*--* Fuel YTD % change Vehicle Price* economy** sales*** from '06 Toyota Prius $22,795 55 76,747 +99.6% Toyota Camry 26,820 31 22,540 +623.0 Honda Civic 23,195 50 13,895 +5.6 Ford Escape 26,320 34 9,252 +3.4 Saturn VUE 22,995 29 3,969 N/A Nissan Altima 26,615 39 1,984 N/A Honda Accord 31,685 31 1,702 -40.3

*--*

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* Base sticker price, 2007 model year

** Combined highway and city mileage

*** Through May

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Sources: Edmunds.com, Environmental Protection Agency, Autodata

Los Angeles Times

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