Robert Bienenfeld with the Honda Insight. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
Article and photos by Paul Williams
2010 Honda Insight
Earth Rangers Centre, Woodbridge, Ontario – When it comes to the environment, one thing seems certain: North American drivers (and that includes Canadians) are all for it when the price of fuel is high. But drop the price of gas, and we drop hybrids and other eco-smart cars in a heartbeat.
American Honda’s Robert Bienenfeld, Senior Manager, Environment and Energy Strategy, points out that the correlation between fuel prices and car size is a bracing 0.89 (where 1.0 is lockstep). That’s a very high correlation, and certainly frustrates the planning of manufacturers investing heavily in fuel-efficient vehicles with near-zero emissions. When fuel costs go down, don’t you know, consumers just aren’t as motivated to “go green.”
A hopeful sign, according to Mr. Bienenfeld, is that younger people are apparently not as fickle (although they may not be buying gas yet…). At the Earth Rangers Centre, a charitable environmental education facility located just north of Toronto, hundreds of thousands of children visit each year, and indications are that environmental responsibility, and its importance in their lives, is more acute than that of their parents.
2010 Honda Insight. Click image to enlarge
The Earth Rangers Centre was, therefore, a fitting location for Honda Canada’s recent wide-ranging discussion of the company’s take on future transportation, including the technologies (and attitudes) needed to reduce emissions and greenhouse gases, increase energy security and develop sustainable energy. Not coincidentally, the “round table” took place on April 22nd, Earth Day, while Honda’s new Insight hybrid car was debuting in dealer showrooms across the continent.
The Insight is a practical hatchback, seats four comfortably, sips gasoline and will run on its battery for an extended period in certain conditions. It would have sold like hotcakes (or in Canada, Dutchies) if the price of gas had remained at last year’s levels, and had Canada’s dollar retained its strong value. As it is, the $23,900 Insight is an impressive vehicle, but is pushing the price envelope for the first-time new car buyer.
Hybrid cars are only one dimension of Honda’s long-term sustainable energy strategy, however, and Mr. Bienenfeld admits the company doesn’t know how, specifically, the transition from petroleum-based fuel to an enduring and viable alternative will ultimately conclude. He explains that 96 per cent of transport energy is currently derived from petroleum, and given that petroleum is a non-renewable resource, energy diversification is the model for future development.