What’s the Honda hybrid’s niche? Everyone affected by price.

Honda Insight Concept

The timing may be right for a hybrid car with a suggested retail price starting under $20,000 — the first in the American market in that price range. That new model also comes as car sales decline along with gasoline prices, which may diminish consumer interest in greener transportation.

The American Honda Motor Company is taking a big risk on the potential appeal of a more mainstream hybrid. The automaker plans to introduce the 2010 Honda Insight on March 24, with sticker prices of $19,800 to $23,100 (plus destination charges).

By comparison, the 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid, from the Ford Motor Company, is priced from $27,270, and the 2009 Toyota Prius, from Toyota Motor Sales USA, starts at $22,000. The largest hybrids, like the 2009 GMC Yukon from General Motors, can cost $50,000 or more.

A campaign for the Insight, with a budget estimated at $50 million to $75 million, is scheduled to start on Monday. The campaign is by RPA in Santa Monica, California The ads present the Insight as a democratic car — small “d,” that is, as opposed to, say, President Barack Obama’s souped-up Cadillac limousine — because it is priced to be affordable.

You know who could use a car like this?” asks the headline of a print advertisement. “Everyone.”

Sounds like a smart campaign. I don’t now if people are ready to spend what hard-earned bucks they have on a new car. Right now.

But, Honda generally is as smart as Toyota – which means light years ahead of the Big 3. Perfectly capable of establishing a perception ahead of demand – which then places them in a position of advantage when consumers decide to act.

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