The promising Insight, Honda’s gas sipping and ultra-low emission hybrid car, has yet to capture the hearts of island drivers.
You would think that a car that gets 70 miles per gallon and has emissions similar to that of a Bunsen burner would be the perfect car for Honolulu, a city that prides itself in the quality of its environment and has monumental gridlock. Well, think again.
Introduced earlier this spring, Honda’s revolutionary Insight, an electric hybrid car, combines a small, clean-burning gasoline engine with an electric motor and gets an astounding 61 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 70 mpg on the highway. Requiring no further maintenance than a conventionally powered car and resembling the automaker’s long-gone CRX with an aerodynamic skirt wrapped around its rear wheels, the Insight has been selling like hotcakes on the mainland but here in Hawaii after an initial strong showing, sales have slowed.
“We were all very excited when the car came out. I think it is such a great idea. But sales haven’t gone as well as we thought,” says Henry Young, sales manager at Pflueger Honda. “The first couple of months we did well but it has slowed down since.”
Like other dealers around the country, Young only receives about one Insight a month, out of only 4,000 cars that were manufactured for sales in the United States. And Young was selling just that—one a month—until sales slowed. Meanwhile, demand on the mainland has been high. Marty Barger, general sales manager at Honda Windward, has received inquires from California dealerships offering to buy Insights off his lot for a small profit.
“I want to keep them in this market because I believe they are good for us,” says Barger. “Recently, I brought back three cars from our Neighbor Island dealerships because they weren’t selling there.”
Those Insights now sit idle on his Kaneohe lot, getting a lot of curious glances but few sales of late.
“We have no idea why it isn’t more popular,” says Barger. “It seems like the perfect car for Oahu. It looks great, has a lot of power and gets incredible gas mileage. It seems as though Hawaii is always six months behind the mainland in whatever it is. Maybe this is another case of that.”
Young believes that Oahu drivers are accustomed to the high gas prices that have sent mainlanders into shock and gravitating to cars with better mileage. Power and room are still high on island consumers’ priorities when buying a car. However, both Young and Barger concede that the Insight might be a tough sell since it is a two-seater and comes with only a manual transmission. And at about $20,000, it isn’t cheap. But both believe this is only the first of many new and roomier models on the horizon. (This month Toyota will start selling its own hybrid car, the Prius, a five-passenger model that gets an average of 48 mpg. It is also selling for about $20,000.)
The decision to buy an Insight was a no-brainer for Scott Williams, a 40-year-old videographer. Williams, who was the first person in the state to buy the car, considers himself “green” and was looking for a car that would be able to handle his more than 2,000 miles a month of driving. He says he averages about 50 to 60 mpg, cutting his gas bill in half.
“I don’t think a day goes by that someone doesn’t tell me that my car is either the coolest or ugliest thing that they have every seen,” says Williams. “But I’m a haole guy from LA. That kind a thing doesn’t phase me. I’m more of a substance kind of guy.”