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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:

  1. 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.
     
  2. 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.
     
  3. 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 by mistake.
     
  4. 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.
     
  5. 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.
     
  6. 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 cold.
     
  7. 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.
     
  8. 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.
     
  9. 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.
     
  10. 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.
     
  11. 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.
     
  12. 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.
     
  13. 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.
     
  14. 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 half of 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.
     
  15. 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.
     
  16. 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.
     
  17. 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.
     
  18. 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.
     
  19. 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" average fuel-mileage.
     
  20. 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 mention that.