Honda Insight in DC
by Dave Goldstein
Charlie Garlow, Program Chairman of EVA/DC, was among about 8 EVA/DC members who attended the Insight rollout and reception. None of us, TMK, were permitted to drive the Insight, although major national journalists were permitted to drive it out into the Maryland countryside for a 70 mile trip in pleasant, sunny 70+ degree weather. I believe that Honda had 4 driveable Insights at DC events for journalists. I am told that one had "a small shunt" during a journalist test drive and was pulled out of service. I don't know how many journalists were offered a test drive, but the turnout was fairly decent (40-50?) during the morning press conference -- but not overwhelming by Washington standards.
EVA's Michael Bono, a student journalist at Landon School in Bethesda, MD., informed me at our EVA/DC Meeting that he DID later get a brief city drive in the Honda Insight shortly after the DC rollout, and that he will send Electrifying Times a report about it. Michael also drove the Electromotive ("EMI") Honda Civic Hatchback Hybrid at our EVA meeting, and came back with a *big smile* on his face! He is the only person thus far, TMK, to have compared both cars."
I think that the EVA/DC consensus was that the Honda version was a pleasant little lightweight (aluminum) gasoline car with electric assist (about 6 HP worth), but that we would have preferred a more advanced EV or grid-rechargeable hybrid. And we politely let a Honda official know how we felt about it at the reception!
Honda officials told us that they would only produce about 8,000 Insights worldwide, about half of them for the Japanese market, and ALL of them (like the Prius) at a loss to the company. Honda statements and press releases indicated that the company will use the Insight to extend their environmental image and to test the market, but that they do not foresee a significant hybrid market developing for at least "two decades"!
The EMI (Manassas, VA) hybrid assist package has been out for several years and has been closely studied by Honda and other OEM engineers -- long before Honda's highly-similar effort was announced. The EMI Honda Hybrid can "blow the doors off" of the Honda Insight!! (with similar gas mileage and emissions reductions!!)
Many EVA/DC members *also* have mixed feelings about Hybrids, BTW, as a viable and sustainable transportation energy solution. Honda's approach does indeed seem rather *tentative*, but is probably more about *Positioning* for the New Millennium against bigger and more powerful OEM alliances such as Toyota-GM. Note that Honda is currently showing two Fuel Cell vehicles at the Tokyo Auto Show as evidence of their high tech, "clean car" future commitment. But having *pulled back* from their CARB MOA agreement to continue marketing EVs in "good faith" in the California market, I think that we would agree that this is more about IMAGE than REALITY.
If the public *does* accept Hybrids in a big way, then the Japanese and Asian manufacturers have the potential to revolutionize the market through their highly flexible and innovative manufacturing methods. But don't overlook the major global automotive alliances that are continuing to occur. Perhaps someday we may only have three or four major global auto companies. What will happen to innovation THEN?
President, EVA/DC and
Program Development Associates, EV Consultants
9140 Centerway Road, Gaithersburg, MD 20879
Electric Vehicle Association of Washington, DC: