Monday, March 30, 2009

The new hotness

It's amusing to watch the Flickr view counts go up on the recent Honda Insight images I shot on Saturday. Flickr does a pretty good job of tracking daily hits and of tracking back to who looked. While some of the hits came from my Saturday posting link, the majority seem to have come from folks searching for the Insight. One track-back in particular seemed to be an automated collection of anything posted about the 2010 Honda Insight. While comments will always vary, the general consensus seems to be how hot the new car is. I don't disagree with the sentiments over the exterior styling of the car. I think it looks pretty sharp as well, better, perhaps, than the Prius. But that doesn't mean the Prius is ugly by any stretch, at least not to these jaded eyes.

Perhaps the 2010 Prius will will excite the New Hotness crowd when it finally comes out. According to most who've test driven it the new 2010 Prius is even better than the 2009 Prius (of course!), but with the New and Shiny badge applied to the outside in order to compete better with the new kid on the block, the re-introduced Insight. That's not to say there won't be better engineering applied to the 2010 Prius. It will be more gas efficient, lighter, better... It has to be in order to remain competitive and desirable in the growing hybrid market.

It's good to finally have this head-to-head competition with two leading Japanese automakers. This competition will force both to introduce better models over the coming years, leading to benefits for both brand's owners. I had wanted to wait for the 2010 Prius, but sometimes you just have to break down and buy a car. It's the same issue with cameras or computers; if you continue to wait until the 'best' version of any product is introduced then you'll never buy anything.

And I strongly believe it's going to drive a stake through GM's fetid heart. I still can't believe all the press generated over the Chevy Volt, a car to be introduced not this year but late next year, as if it's the second coming of hybrids. I don't doubt that GM has deep and impressive R&D capabilities; look at the EV1, a pure electric introduced in 1996, over 12 years ago. Honda's original Insight didn't show up until 2000, and it was canceled in 2006. The Prius was introduced in Japan in 1997; it was and still is a gas/electric hybrid. GM was literally right there at the forefront of automotive technology with the introduction of the EV1, and they threw it all away to concentrate on SUV and big truck production. And in the process they threw away their future.

The only American auto maker who I believe will survive is Ford. They've got hybrids to sell right now, imperfect though they may be, and the fact they haven't gone to the government for bailout money is significant. I don't know if I'll every buy a Ford in the future, but at least they'll have vehicles I believe will be competitive with Toyota, Honda, and just about everybody else.

All this hybrid excitement, especially in this economic down cycle, represents a fundamental shift in transportation. And that shift is away from large inefficient vehicles run strictly on hydrocarbon-based fuels to smaller hybrids or fully electric vehicles. Even though gas is down to just $2/gallon right now, it will go back up. Higher energy prices are going to not only push us towards more efficient vehicles but back towards living closer to where we work in order to reduce the amount of travel time and distance. And this will push us further, in a more virtuous cycle, to use smaller, more energy efficient vehicles. The future is an electric vehicle more along the size of the Smart car or Tata Nano rather than the past's Hummers, Tahoes and Yukons. We can't afford them any more, not as individuals, not as a nation, nor a species. Today's and tomorrows hybrids, while not perfect, are certainly a very good evolutionary step towards full electric vehicles.

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