How to Demo Your Insight in Just 20 Steps
(Originally written for Automotive Industries' website in Spring, 2000)
Being both a Honda loyalist and a technology freak, I placed my order for the
Honda gas/electric hybrid on January 5th, 1999, the day after a picture of the
VV prototype appeared in the newspaper. It was difficult to wait for 387 days
until my Insight arrived, but I was confident I would be happy when it did.
During that long year, I searched the web often for little tidbits about the
car, but there was not much
information to be found until I discovered Insight Central (www.insightcentral.net/), a site created by
Brian Pirie who lives near Ottawa, Ontario.
This site gave me the impetus to create my own, more personal site, InsightMan.com. At first, my site consisted
of a single page containing only an open letter to Honda, begging them to
deliver my Insight as soon as possible. No one saw it, of course, because I was
too shy to register it with the search engines, but it gave me something to do while I waited. Later, I bought a Honda Insight Press Kit on eBay, scanned it, and put it up on my site. Much of
this information never
appeared in the press so I felt I was providing a real service to those
who, like me, were starved for Insight data.
In late January, my Insight finally arrived and I spent the first night
typing in most of the Owner's Manual for my website's Data page. Then I began
recording my experiences in my Log page and I added a Feedback page with stories
from other owners and rants from unreasonable critics.
After demonstrating my Insight to my long-suffering friends (who have heard the word, "Insight"
so often, they're sick of it), I have settled on the following 20-step demo routine:
- Pat the panel behind the driver's door to bring out the unique resonance
of the aluminum body, pointing out that the Insight is mostly aluminum to save weight. Then say that
the plastic front fenders save even more weight, while being less prone
to dents. To simulate the air flowing over the slippery Insight, put your hands
close to the body and pass them over the hood, the windshield, the roof, and
the rear window as you say that the Insight's .25 coefficient of drag is the lowest of any car
you can buy. When your hands reach the rear
edge of the hatch, use a motion like basketball ref calling traveling to show how the wind swirls off the back
edge of the cut-off Kamm-style tail and curls around to push against the rear
of the car and help move it forward.
- Now that you're at the rear of the car, open the hatch, wave your hand
over the area behind the passengerís seat and say that there are 120
rechargeable D-cell batteries under this spot that provide the 144 volts to power the
Integrated Motor Assist (IMA)
motor up front. If your friend expresses amazement, add these details:
they're Nickel Metal Hydride batteries manufactured by Panasonic and warranted
for 80K miles or 8 years by Honda.
- Next, wave your hand over the area behind the driverís seat and say that
there's a pile of high-power electronic circuitry under this spot. If your
friend shows the slightest interest, add these details: thereís an
electronic control unit that decides when to use the motor to boost the
engine and when to use it to recharge the batteries. Thereís a DC-to-DC converter to
convert the 144 IMA volts to the 12 volts required for the motorcycle-sized
battery used to power the 12 volt accessories. Make a joke about how fast
the windshield wipers would go if they were hooked to the 144-volt batteries
- Open the cargo box at the rear of the cargo deck, making sure to point out
the styrofoam used to make the lid as light as possible. Flex the flimsy,
lightweight material lining the interior of the cargo box. Say that beneath
this box is the space-saver spare, mounted on a cast aluminum wheel to save
weight. Then say that Honda designed the spare and the floor around it to absorb some of the shock in
a rear collision. If you popped the big bucks for the CD changer that lives in the little
pocket to the left of the cargo box, now's a good time to show it off.
- Now that you've identified a few of the lightweight components, it's time
to leak out what many consider to be the Insight's bombshell: the load
limit. Say that Honda has optimized every single component in this car to
achieve 70 mpg. Then say that Honda expects you to be share in this
optimization because the driver plus passenger plus their cargo can weigh no
more than 365 pounds total. Your intention here is to convey the concept of a total
systems approach to the 70 mpg goal. The 365-lb load limit makes it clear that you're supposed to be part of the solution and
it also helps you deflect criticisms about the lack of a
rear seat, a sunroof, a convertible top, or anything else your friend might
deem to be missing.
- Now move back to the front of the car, pausing to pull the hood latch. As you open the hood, show that the aluminum
hood is so light that it requires only a tiny
stick to hold it open. Point to the thick orange
cable coming from beneath the car and disappearing somewhere in the
vicinity of the engine. Say that this is the cable that carries the 144-volt
power between the IMA electric motor and the 120 D-cell battery pack in the
rear. Rather than wait for your friend's neck to get a cramp trying to see
where the wires attach to the IMA motor, point out some of the other
features in the engine bay: the plastic intake manifold, the plastic
pulleys, the electric power steering with it's high-mounted rack, and the motorcycle-sized 12-volt
battery. If your friend knows cars, show that the catalytic converter is connected directly to the head, which is possible because the exhaust manifold is cast
right into the head!
This direct connection heats the catalytic converter to its operating
temperature immediately, reducing the emissions other cars produce when
- Close the hood and move to the passenger's door. Have your friend open the
door to feel how light it feels when getting in. Before the door
closes, prepare your friend for the reassuring, solid sound, despite the
door's lightness. Now scurry around and assume the helm for the next phase
of your demo: the explanation of the multi-media LCD instrument cluster.
- Focus your friend's attention on the dark, lifeless panel in
front of the steering wheel before you turn the key to the ON position (don't start
the motor just yet). It's tempting to watch your friend's eyes as the
instrument cluster comes to life, but don't do it because your friend will turn and
look at you instead of the gauges. Even so, you may have to activate the
instrument cluster twice to illustrate how beautiful it is when all the multicolored
LCD segments in the gauges light up at once and then turn off their
segments in sequence so that all of the gauges reach zero simultaneously.
- Now it's time to start the engine. You don't want the Insight to use
its conventional and unimpressive auxiliary starter motor, so make sure
you've warmed up the car before the demo. You'll have to announce that
you're about to start the engine. Then, after you've started the engine,
you'll have to announce that the engine is started, it happens so quickly
and quietly when the IMA motor does the starting. If your friend understands cars, point
out how smoothly the Insight idles, despite the lack of a heavy,
power-robbing, balance shaft in the engine. Say that this smoothness is due
to Honda's wizardry with the IMA electric motor. Explain how the brain
behind the seats pulses the IMA motor to perfectly counteract the power
strokes from engine at idle to eliminate the vibration associated with
other three-cylinder engines.
- Back to the gauges, now that they are active. Gloss over the normal
tachometer and temperature gauges and the large easy-to-read digital
speedometer, they're just another way to show the same information
everyone gets from their regular old dashboard. Focus instead on the IMA
gauges at the right side of the instrument cluster. Tell your friend how the Battery
Level gauge and the Gas Level gauge show roughly the same kind of
information: stored energy. If you want to sound philosophical, you can say
how all the energy indicated on the right side Battery Level gauge
ultimately comes from the energy indicated on the left side Gas Level gauge.
Lastly, point out the Assist and Charge gauges at the top of the right
cluster and say how those are where your friend can watch the IMA brain at
work during the demo drive.
- Before you push the gearshift lever into
first, show your friend how short the shift throws are. Then, explain that the gearbox isn't an off-the-shelf item either, it's 9 pounds
lighter than a Civic gearbox. You can also mention the aluminum front brake
calipers and the unique aluminum drum brakes at the rear to continue weaving
the lightweight theme into the demo. Now it's time to put the rubber to the
road. Without being obvious, press and hold the FCD (Fuel Consumption
Display) button to zero its memory to start recording data from the demo ride.
- As you move away from your parking spot, call attention to the up-shift arrow on the instrument
cluster lighting up almost immediately even though the engine is turning only
about 2,000 rpm. Move through the gears, shifting
whenever the up-shift arrow tells you to. Soon you'll be in 5th gear
even though your road speed is barely 40 mph. Call your friend's attention
to the instantaneous
fuel mileage bar graph at the bottom of the instrument cluster. If you're
light-of-foot, this should be reading between 60 and 70 mpg. Then let off
the accelerator so your friend can see the bar graph soar to 150 mpg.
- Now it's time to demonstrate the Integrated Motor Assist. Tell your
friend, "Look, this tiny 60-cubic inch engine didn't blow up even though I'm flooring the accelerator in 5th gear!" Then point out
that all the segments on the IMA Assist gauge are lit to show how the electric motor
is giving all it's got. In no time (well, in maybe 20 seconds or so), you'll be going
60 mph. Your friend may be impressed by the dashboard light show, but certainly not
with the top-gear acceleration.
- To demonstrate the Insight's
built-in recharging system, let up on the accelerator and point out how the
Assist gauge goes to zero and the Charge gauge lights a little more than
its segments. Explain that the IMA brain has now switched the IMA motor into its generator mode to recharge the batteries behind the seats. Then, touch the
brake pedal very lightly and say to your friend, "I'm touching the
brake pedal very lightly to let the IMA brain know that
it's OK to kick into the full recharge mode, which causes the substantial
drag you're feeling right now." Make sure your friend sees that all of
the the Charge gauge segments are now lit.
- When the Insight's speed has dropped below 20 mph, move the gearshift lever
to neutral and take your foot off the accelerator pedal. As you coast to a
stop, don't say anything to see if your friend realizes that everything has
gotten very quiet because the engine has stopped. If the realization doesn't
come while you're coasting, it surely will after you bring the Insight to a
complete stop. You should lay on the brakes hard enough at the end to get the
gas sloshing audibly in the tank. Here's where you quip, "Now we're really saving
gas!" Demonstrate how the engine starts up instantly when you put the
gearshift lever in 1st. Then, put the car back in neutral immediately and,
after a second, back into first to reiterate the instant on/off operation of
the Auto Stop function. Now turn on the Climate Control system using the ECON
button so that the next time you come to
a stop you can explain how the ECON mode enables the Auto Stop function to shut off the A/C or heater,
to maximize the gas savings.
- Now, it's time to show that this economy car has some spunk so nail the
accelerator! You've been driving in such a mild manner until now, that the
contrast will make the Insight feel faster than it really is. At least in
1st gear, anyway. The IMA motor really adds an impressive punch off
the line because it develops its full 30-odd pound-feet of torque beginning
at zero rpm. You should take it right to the 6,000-rpm redline because when you
switch to that tall 2nd gear, you're going to lose some steam. After you
shift, distract your friend from noticing the reduced acceleration by
pointing out how the instantaneous fuel efficiency bar graph has dipped into
the 20's or lower. "This is not the way to save gas," you say.
Just the same, keep the pedal to the aluminum in 2nd gear until the redline before you move to
3rd and do the same with this gear. That's the end of the impressive
acceleration part of the demo ride.
- When you get to 4th, you
won't be accelerating very quickly and you should return to the economy theme. Explain that
the Insight has TWO overdrive gears: 4th and
5th. These very tall gears enable the Insight to get 70 mpg at expressway speeds in 5th gear,
but there's not much punch from this 60-cubic inch mill unless you
downshift to a lower gear. Compare the Insight to Lance Armstrong's bicycle,
which has most of its gears clustered at the top end so he can choose the
fastest gear for the prevailing wind and terrain conditions. If you find a hill big enough to really
slow the Insight while the accelerator is floored, you may even activate the rarely seen down-shift light.
- Wind noise, or the lack of it actually, is a good topic for conversation
while you're at speed. You can explain that it's one benefit of the
Insight's low coefficient of drag. If your friend mentions the road
noise from the ultra-hard 38 psi high-mileage tires, the enchantment of the Insight's high technology
may be wearing a little thin. Hopefully,
you purchased the optional rear speakers so you can turn on the radio and
crank up the volume to drown out the road noise. It's not the most powerful
stereo on the road, but hey, the Insight's electrical system is optimized
like the rest of the car to emphasize fuel economy--it can't even power a standard automobile cigarette
lighter element. So the turning the volume all the way up won't make you
deaf or have people running out of their houses
shaking their fists at you as you cruise by.
- Now that you're put some miles into the demo ride, you can show how the Fuel Consumption Display
has been tracking both the miles driven and
the average fuel economy. Then cycle the Trip button through the three other
mpg/mile readouts. Tell your friend how
you use Trip A to record the
figures from the current tank of gas and Trip B to record the
round-trip figures that span multiple fill-ups. Then show the odometer
display, which includes a readout of your Insight's "lifetime"
- Finally, at the end of the demo ride, park your Insight in a conspicuous,
well populated location so that when you and your friend get out, there will be people to
ogle the car and ask you questions. This attention will cement your friend's
impression that this Honda Insight is one exceptional car and that you're
quite an admirable chap to drive this car in an effort to help save the planet.
It's too bad that all you're really doing is making a few more gallons of
fossil fuel available to all those gas guzzling sport utes, but don't