The Saga of Buying My Honda Insight
By John Wayland
1 April 2000


Hello Insight fans,

As some of you may remember, I had placed my order for a Citrus Yellow Insight back in January, and have been anxiously waiting for it ever since. Having a friend in the car business over the last nearly 30 years or so, has made it pretty easy for me to get vehicles and factory accessories at near wholesale levels. Lloyd is the parts manager for Thomason Toyota here in the Portland metro area, and he's been a close friend of mine since I was about 20 ( a long time ago). He was the parts manager of my local Datsun dealer when we first met in the early 70's, and he helped me get all my Nissan Competition racing goodies at or near cost when I was into high powered turbo drag cars.Over the years in a reciprocal relationship, I have helped him with all sorts of projects, and I have always been his on-call stereo guy, wiring guy, battery guy...anything to do with modifying or tricking-out the electrical systems of cars, hot rods, and even nitrous-powered sand rails. When I have ever needed anything 'automotive', the first person I get in touch with, is Lloyd.

It was only natural to call LLoyd when I decided to get an Insight, as even though he is the Toyota store's parts department manager, the Thomason Auto Group he works for can get me just about any brand of vehicle I might want. I had driven my electric Toyota truck down to meet with Lloyd and the Honda sales manager back in January, where we showed the Honda guy numerous magazines and videos that featured my EV work, my stereo competition participation, and my involvement with electric drag racing EVents. Agreeing with Lloyd that selling me an Insight would be a great advertising tool for Thomason Honda, we struck a deal where I was put at the top of a list to get either a silver Insight, or a Citrus Yellow one, as these two cars were due to arrive within two weeks (so I was told). I made it clear that though my preference was for the Citrus Yellow car, but that I wanted to be able to see both cars to make my final decision. We also agreed that I would get my car at less than MSRP, and in trade, I would be sure to give credit to Thomason Honda at all the television interviews, car shows, soundoff competitions (my Insight will be the world's first hybrid 'car wars' soundoff vehicle), and EV races I am involved with...it was a mutually beneficial deal that we were excited about.

As the weeks wore on, I called Dave Miller at the beginning of each week, checking in to see if they at least had the VIN. He said don't worry, you're still at the top of the list and I'llcall you as soon as we get word." As I had been keeping an eye on how sales have been going with the Insight, and as I read stories of additional dealer mark-ups and bidding wars over this exciting new hybrid, and as the weeks of waiting turned into months of waiting, I began to wonder what was up with my order, but I continued to get the same reassuring remarks from Dave, and since Lloyd had told me he was a straight up kind of guy, I didn't panic...yet.

The last two weeks of my work has had me on plane after plane, city after city, and so I missed calling into Dave for two weeks...no worry though, because he had told me that I really didn't have to keep calling in each week...he did have no less than four people, six phone numbers, and three email addresses by which to contact me.

Back in town for the first half of this week, on Monday morning, I called in to see what the latest word was on my long-standing Insight order...this is when it all started to unravel.

Insight owner wanna be....."Hello, this is John Wayland, is Dave Miller in?"

Zero personality car dude...."Uh, no he isn't, he's been transferred to another area." (followed by silence...no 'May I help you?'....no apparent desire to see if I can be helped....no desire to keep me happy) Insight owner wanna be....."OK...great...who's taken over his position, and who do I need to talk to regarding my order for a new Insight dating back to January? I'm at the top of a list and am waiting to look at both the silver one and the Citrus Yellow one that are coming in soon."

Zero personality car dude...."Oh.....,well.....uh.....the silver one came in last week, but it's gone now." Insight owner wanna be....."What??? Why wasn't I called about this?" Zero personality car dude...."Well, I knew about your name being at the top of some list, but we had ten people here within an hour and they all started bidding on it....we took the highest offer....this guy gave us a check for $27,000, so we sold it to him."

Insight owner wanna be....."Oh, that's nice, thanks so much for keeping your deal with me. So what's up with the other one, has it come and gone, too?

Zero personality car dude...."Oh yeah, the weirdo greenish colored one? It should be here in two more months, but we've already taken a deposit from a guy who's gonna give us five grand over sticker for it."

Insight owner wanna be....."You know, I asked Dave on several occasions if I could give him a deposit towards my car, but he insisted that a handshake and a man's word were all it took to deal with him."

Zero personality car dude...."Well (hah, hah, hah), I don't work that way, the one with the most cash gets my attention...sorry...do you wanna come down here and give me a check for the green one, if it's for more than this other guy, I'll put you ahead of him."

With this last disgusting comment, I ended the conversation, and began to realize that my chances of getting an Insight soon and at a fair price, were fading fast. I made a call to Lloyd and gave him the story...he was pretty upset, and immediately made calls to look into the matter. Later, I heard back from him as he reported that all his efforts seemed to be falling on deaf ears.

Realizing now that honesty and commitment are no longer part of the deal at the Thomason Autogroup, I started calling other Honda dealerships to see if I could find a car at a reasonable price within a reasonable time...this proved to be a daunting task. I called the Hanna Autogroup in neighboring Vancouver, Washington, as I had purchased a car in '93 from them and had been treated very well. Hanna Honda had a very knowledgeable sales person, and she knew all about the Insight. As I explained my EV background to her, she was excited and got her sales manager involved from the beginning. They had just sold an Insight the week before, and thought that a few more would be in in a few weeks...the problem?....they had three people on a waiting list already. .

I heard back from Hanna Honda on Tuesday, as they promised, but the news was even worse. They were told by Honda that they would not see another Insight on their lot until September, when they would get just one more. They were kind enough to have run a dealer allotment check for stock as of Tuesday. I called the one located some 300 miles away in Spokane, Washington (in my area?) and they were happy to tell me they had a silver Insight that had just arrived that morning, and that for just $5000 over list, it could be mine...I obviously passed on the deal! Call number two found me talking to a Fife, Washington Honda store located about 150 miles north of Portland, where they had a red Insight without air, for just $3000 over sticker. They said that three people had called and were on their way in to buy the car, but if I got there first, I could have it...yeah right, just $3000 too much and 150 miles away....I passed on this, too. Call number three was made to Kirkland, Washington (about 250 miles away, where they had a silver car for just $25,000 that they were holding for a customer more than happy to pay them that amount....things were looking pretty grim.

As I made call after call to dealer after dealer, it was hard not being angry and frustrated about being screwed over by Thomason Honda, and the realization that I had waited so long for my car just to start all over again was making me feel that my opportunity to even get an Insight was fading away fast.

I made calls to a couple of Salem, Oregon area Honda dealers, and was told that they'd get back to me the next day, Wednesday. I was scheduled to fly out of town on Thursday and would not be back until Friday night, so if I was to somehow secure a car, Wednesday was the day to do it. Pretty much all the dealers I spoke to, talked about how all the Insights slated for the year 2000 production were all spoken for and alloted.

As I was dealing with all this car stuff, I couldn't help thinking back to 1970, when Datsun introduced the 240Z sports car and created an immediate sensation that had customers putting down deposits and waiting six months to take delivery on their cars. Back then, it was because it was car like no other, a sports car without the reliability problems and temperament of those 'other sports cars' of the period, while still offering fun, performance, and good fuel economy at a very reasonable price. Though bargain-priced by Nissan, dealers saw nothing but dollar signs and tagged on outrageous markups, sticking it to their customers.

Today it's the Insight, a car like no other, America's first hybrid gas-electric car who's release is timed perfectly to deal with pollution issues and the recent rising gasoline prices, while still offering fun, performance, and the highest gas mileage of any production car ever, at a very reasonable price. Sadly, just as in 1970, greedy dealers are repeating history and huge dealer markups are making getting an Insight a very unpleasant experience.

After a long day at work, I was at home at around 7:30 in the evening when I heard back from the Salem area dealers, and the one that had sounded the most promising reported that the four more cars they had thought they would receive for the year, were now reduced to one that would be delivered in October! By 9:30, my wife and I had called Honda dealers in Beaverton, Hillsboro, Eugene, and many other Oregon cities, all saying that Insights were unavailable or already spoken for....man, what a bummer!

I suddenly went into desperation mode, and thought about calling Ron Tonkin Honda, a dealer literally blocks from our home. I say 'desperation' because we view the Ron Tonkin dealerships as the sharks of the car world, a throwback from the 60's when salesmen wearing shark skin suits would circle and surround potential victims, moving in for the kill....if they smelled blood, you were done for! I remembered reading on the 'Insight list' when there were just five of us on the list, of a Portland couple who wandered into the Tonkin Honda showroom, saw a red Insight just sitting there, paid a high price for it, and drove it away....no waiting list, no searching...got it and left! I wondered, maybe, just maybe, it could happen again? With my wife protesting that she would not set foot at any Ron Tonkin dealership, I made the call:

Young Tonkin salesman, "Good evening, Ron Tonkin Honda, how may I help you?"

Insight owner wanna be (shocked to hear the adolescent-sounding voice and the politeness and courteous tone)....."Hello, is this really Ron Tonkin Honda?...you don't sound rude enough."

Young Tonkin salesman (laughing at my sarcasm)...."Yes it is sir, Ron Tonkin Honda here, eager to help you."

Insight owner wanna be...."OK, how many Insights do you have right now?"

Young Tonkin salesman..."We just got a new silver one in a little more than an hour ago, a late night delivery we weren't expecting."

Insight owner wanna be..."Yeah right, but seriously, do you think you might be getting any in the next month or so?"

Young Tonkin salesman..."I'm serious, we really do have one right now...it's only still here because it's so late, and we weren't expecting it...it still has the white plastic protection on its body panels. Come tomorrow, when our doors open, it will be gone before noon."

Insight owner wanna be..."Man, I can't believe this! Don't you guys have a gazillion people waiting for one?"

Young Tonkin salesman..."Yeah, they call every day checking to see if we have one, but unlike the other dealers, we don't have a sign-up list...it's first come, first serve....whoever gets here first, gets an Insight."

Insight owner wanna be..."Man, too bad it's a boring silver one...do you guys rape your customers with dealer markups on them?"

Young Tonkin salesman..."You know, I don't like silver cars all that much either, but you really should at least look at this one, because it's the nicest silver color I've ever seen...it's not grey, but a very metallic silver. On this car with its slick-looking shape, I think the silver fits. Oh yeah....yes, we do mark them up, but not too bad."

I told him I'd be right over and quickly got off the phone as my wife looked at me in surprise and said,"They actually HAVE one, right down the road from us? Oh, we can't do this, we just CAN'T get a car from Ron Tonkin!" With both of us sharing bad feelings about the dealership, we nonetheless went outside, jumped in Red Beastie (my electric Toyota truck), and motored over to Ron Tonkin Honda, where we parked right near the showroom in full view, with the 'Electric' decals clearly announcing we had arrived to look at the cleanest burning gas car in the world, with an even cleaner running all electric truck. An entourage of five young dudes came out to greet us, and with great enthusiasm, one of them (he turned out to be Chris, my young 19 year old eager salesman I had talked with) exclaimed, "Man, it's an electric! Wow!" Looking into the cab, he instantly saw the high-end Sony in dash CD player lit up with its multicolored display, then peered in back, spotting the JL Audio MicroSub in back...."Hey, this electric's got tunes!...can I hear the system?" I said, "Sure, if you knock off that dealer markup you told me about." Both chuckling, he got in and told me that he was an autosound nut with a pretty hot system of his own in his truck. I think the simple three speaker setup of the Beastie caught him off guard, as he was blown away with the clarity and big bass performance of my EV's system....it didn't hurt that he too, was an AC/DC fan and that I had their most recent disc playing. As we rocked in the cool evening, the tunes attracted others from the showroom, and we suddenly had a small gathering around the gleaming red electric pickup, and it soon turned into an EV show and tell EVent. Meanwhile, my car nut wife had found a hot new S2000 Honda in the showroom, and the lure of that 240 hp big four banger had her attention.

About 15 minutes after we had arrived, I was able to get free from the truck's mini soundoff, and go inside to take a look at the Insight they had in the back room. Wow, they really did have one, and Chris was right, for silver, it wasn't too bad. I opened the hood and was surprised to see that this car had been shipped with factory air. I had been told by many dealers, that Insights did not come with the air installed, and that it was a dealer-installed item only. I always worry when the dealer touches my car, and so was very pleased that this one had been shipped from Japan with the air....Yes! The MSRP was $20,400, just as it should be, but stuck on the driver's door, there it was....the dreaded insidious dealer markup....$2000 tacked on to the price! I looked at Chris and told him that I would not pay this. He only responded with, "OK, I'll see what I can do, but don't get too excited if I can't get it reduced, as we can get it pretty easy from others." Back inside the main showroom, while Chris went around a small office-like partition to talk with the sales manager, I was busy talking with the younger dudes about EVs, car stereos, and electric drag racing.

They really liked the various magazines we had brought along, and were pretty much blown away reading about 13, 11, and 8 second 1/4 mile drag EVs. Chris emerged from the cubical, ears a bit red as if he 'd been grilled, to report that the dealer markup was going to stay. I threw a fit (politely, of course), and was ready to march out of the showroom, leaving perhaps my last chance at an Insight behind me. Hearing my comments, a deep, aggressive voice bellowed out from the cubical, "You...come in hear!" The gestures from Chris and others made me aware that he may have been talking to me, the customer, so directing my voice towards the man behind the curtain (a little Wizard of Oz) I said, "Who me? Are you talk'n to me?" (Robert DeNerro imitation) "Yeah, you, the electric car guy....get in here!"

I left Toto and the Tin man behind, and went around the barrier to meet the mystery sales manager. He looked just like the stereotypical 60's era car shark...55ish, rolled up sleeves, tacky tie, and arms folded as he waited for me behind his desk.

Sales manager car shark...."How fast is your electric drag car?"

Plasma Boy (now in my ultra confident EV god mode)...."Fully street legal, with direct drive it runs 13.35!"

Sales manager car shark...."Damn, that'll dust off one of our new Vettes!?"

Plasma Boy..."You got that right....I'll let you drive it, if you get rid of that markup BS."

Sales manager car shark (who's stern grimace is almost eroded by a slight smile)...."OK, here's the deal, so pay attention! It's late, and because of you I'm still here at 10:30, and I wouldn't mind ringing up one last sale tonight. You obviously know more about this car than anyone here, and you seem to be desperate to get one....right?"

Plasma Boy..."Yeah, you're right, I know more about this car, EVs, and hybrids than you'll ever know, and yes you're right about my desperation....but I'm not desperate enough to give you 2000 bucks!"

Sales manager car shark...."I really don't care about what you think of our markup, and I know that you can leave the car here, and come tomorrow, by 10:00 AM, I'll have five people here eager to give me the full 2000 bucks....you got that?"

Despite his arrogant, rude, and boorish attitude, I liked this guy....he was entertaining!

Plasma Boy..."Yeah, you've got me right where you want me! However, I'm not leaving without this car, and you're not going to gouge me in the process."

At this point, I sense that in a twisted way, this guy likes me, too."

Sales manager car shark...."Anyway, here's the deal.....I'll meet you halfway....1000 bucks over sticker, take it or leave, I really don't care....that's my final offer!"

Plasma Boy (switched into my Regis routine)..."Care to phone a friend? Poll the audience?" (I really said these things)

He's now got a stone face on, arms still folded, eyes looking right at me, awaiting a serious answer.

Plasma Boy..."You're a pirate!"

Sales manager car shark...."Argghhh!" (I kid you not!)

With that, I went to discuss the offer with my wife, who was about to beat me for being so stingy and bull-headed. She made me realize that I wasn't in the driver's seat on this deal, and that the very fact the we had found a car right down the road from our house, and that were able to talk them down a bit on the dealer markup, it was a big win for 'our side'. I wasn't one bit happy at paying full list price, let alone the ransom of the 1000 bucks, but her logic was good. I kept talking away with Chris, and after he had failed to convince his superior to cut me a bit more slack, I weakened and succumbed. It was 11:30 PM when I finally gave in and struck the deal to buy the car for $21,400.

After having haggled with the Ron Tonkin boys until late Tuesday evening, I left after giving them a check to hold the car. Wednesday I had a busy work day, but I made arrangements to return to Tonkin around 5:00 PM with a cashier's check for the balance owed on the car. I drove my electric pickup 'Red Beastie' to work and later had a fun 'electric lunch' with my EV sidekick Marko Mongillo, who has the coolest EV...an immaculately restored '59 Fiat 600 sedan powered by 120 volts of Optima batteries. It was a classic Oregon Spring day...a beautiful 65 degrees, sunny, and wonderful images of pink cherry tree blossoms backed by an azure blue sky. After electrically cruising in Red Beastie to the Red Robin restaurant where we chomped down a pair of Bonzai Burgers, we returned to my work location. Marko and I agreed to meet later at my house.

Late in the afternoon it was still pretty warm, and at around 4:30 or so, Marko and I met up again where we decided to ride our Zappy electric scooters from the Wayland home and over to the Ron Tonkin dealership to get the Insight. The Zappy run was fun, and as we scooted up to the showroom, we were greeted by the young salesman crowd again...they each HAD to take turns riding our scooters! My salesman Chris said to me, "You just had to top driving an electric truck over to get your hybrid, didn't you?" I simply smiled and talked about getting around on our zero pollution scooters, and how there really wasn't a good reason to use gas to come the short distance to get my car. Before being released from the grips of Ron Tonkin Honda, I had to endure the gauntlet of dealing with Tonkin's final 'closer'...the finance man. Though I had a check in hand for the balance owed on the car, I still needed to sign license, title, and registration stuff, and while he had me caged-in his cubical, it was his determination that he needed to sell me 'dealer stuff'...you know, that sealant-protectant package, extended warranty, and other high markup items they love to hook their customers on. It was the extended warranty that I the most fun with. After I let him go all the way through his well-rehearsed spiel, I said, "Wow, you mean that with this special offer, when I get home with my new car and tear it all apart fiddling with the battery pack and hooking up an extra DC-DC converter, and after I drill holes in the body and modify the speed controller, you guys will cover me with a super neat 'extended warranty' just in case I blow it up?" At this time, he started to mumble something about how 'those things' would void this 'special warranty', and realizing he wanted no part of me, he folded up the papers and put them away. He was ready to have me sign the license part where I would get some random lettered plate, when I told him I wanted to order a custom plate. My three choices were:

(1) HYBRID
(2) 70 MPG
(3) GAS-EV

Having dispatched the final closer, leaving him with his hands empty and the reluctantly agreed to price still in tact, it was time to load the Zappy scooters in the hatch, and cruise back home with my new friend 'Sniffer'...as in fume-sniffer. The drive home was pretty uneventful, as my mind was still stuck in the 'John vs the car sharks' mode. The Ron Tonkin advertising catch phrase is 'For the love of cars', but for me, there was no love in buying my car from Tonkin...the Tonkin sales attitude certainly takes away most of the joy of buying a new car!

I gave both of my kids and my wife a quick ride in Sniffer, then parked him in the driveway as it was getting close to dinner time. My brother had called and he and his wife wanted to stop by to see 'the hybrid car', and after dinner, they showed up...more rides and show 'n tell. After we had finished, we were inside the living room visiting, when we noticed a car stopped out front and angled in the street so that its headlights were illuminating Sniffer. I went out to see what was up....more show 'n tell time. I finally put the car away inside the safety of my backyard EV shop late on this long Wednesday, and hit the sack earlier than usual, as I had to get up by 5:00 AM to jet out of town for the next few days. I ended up staying out of town an extra day on business, got home Saturday evening, and was picked up at the airport by my family and was whisked off to celebrate my daughter's 17th birthday at a planned dinner. I got home at 10:00, and exhausted, hit the sack.

I finally saw Sniffer for the second time since I brought him home, on Sunday morning when I took my wife out for breakfast at King's Omelet, the local restaurant where my daughter works as a hostess, and where we are good friends with the owner, Patti. King's Omelet is an EV-friendly place where I take all my out of town visiting EV friends, and where we put on a yearly EVent, 'EV Awareness Day', where we show and display 20-30 EVs. The patrons of the restaurant are mostly older folks, all of them characters, full of personality, and very much into the EVs that frequent the place. Once we had gone inside and ordered up a hearty breakfast, it was hard to get a chance to stay seated to enjoy it, as more and more people began to crowd around the strange-looking little silver car in the parking lot.

I finally gave up, went outside again, and conducted an impromptu hybrid car show in the parking lot. It was so cool to catch the seasoned citizen's take on this unique car, as I value their opinions more than folks my own age...you can always learn from your elders.

Stay tuned for more chronicles of life with Sniffer.....

See Ye........John Wayland
EV fanatic
Electric drag racer
Owner of VIN 904 silver Insight