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Can Honda Beat the Prius?

Monday, 18 Aug 2008 | 9:32 AM ET
Honda
CNBC.com
Honda

When a Honda executive said last week that his company plans to roll out a "Prius Fighter" hybrid next spring, it marked the latest proclamation from an automaker that it had a model to beat the king of the hybrids.

And once again I'm curious if this challenge will truly be a challenge to Toyota Motor.

Yes, I know those of you who call me "Toyota Phil" think I will defend the Japanese automaker to the end of time. But in this case, I am not ready to easily dismiss Honda.

Why?

- Honda is, at its core, an engine company. It knows how to make a hybrid that can stand toe-to-toe with the Toyota hybrid engine.

- Honda learned from its failure with past hybrids. Remember a few years ago, when its hybrid lineup fizzled? The company won't make the same mistake of sticking a hybrid engine in an existing model and expecting that to sell.

- Honda can parlay its image as the automaker with a fuel efficient lineup of cars. Look at which automakers are doing the best handling the current fall-off in sales, and only one stands out: Honda.

This doesn't mean I'm writing off Toyota. Let's be honest: the Prius practically created the hybrid segment. And for many people it's still the gold standard. That built-in advantage will make it tough for Honda, or any other automaker, to steal the Prius' crown.

The hybrid wars are about to heat up; and for once, I think there could be a true fight.

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Left behind in hybrid race?

- Ford Motor

- General Motors

- Chrysler (privately owned)

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Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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