The 2017 Honda Ridgeline – An automotive reboot.

Picture provided by Motortrend.co,

Picture provided by Motortrend.com

When Honda introduced the Ridgeline in 2005, it was the truck equivalent of Zima. Zomething different.  Not quite a truck, not quite a SUV.  It looked kinda like a midsized Chevy Avalanche, but didn’t carry the tough look.  Some would argue that it competed against the Subaru Baja as a modern four door El Camino, but it was chunkier in comparison.  Honda billed it as the truck for “Cool dads”, but the pitch fell too short. Honda’s Ridgeline was just too different.  The sales numbers proved this.

In 2006 The Ridgeline hit its sales peak at 50,193 sold in the U.S. When the original design ended in 2014 the Ridgeline sales struggled at 13,389. To put this in perspective, the Ford Ranger sold 92,420 models in 2006 and in its last year run of 2012, sold 19,366.  (Honda sold 14,068 Ridgelines that year.)*

With such low sales, Honda followed Hollywood’s latest trend and rebooted the Ridgeline.

First they stopped production of the previous design for two years. This let the memory fade a bit and allow a better reaction for the new version.

Second they made it fit the mold better. The original Ridgeline left you wondering what it was. The image of this Ridgeline is better defined.

Alas, as with other reboots, the traditions of the original are easy to spot. The New Ridgeline is of unibody construction just like the old one.  This is proudly acknowledged by the executive vice-president of American Honda, John Mendel.  He touts the rigidity of the unibody, while promising a smoother street ride than the traditional, body on frame trucks of Chevrolet, Toyota, and Nissan.

John is smart to point out that the Ridgeline in no way competes against the big boys of the full size team. No sir!  The Ridgeline is aimed squarely at the Colorado, Tacoma, and Frontier.

But, in a way, it’s not.

Even though Mendel boast that this is a tough truck, and that the payload and towing rates are right in the fight with the other welterweights, (Up to 1,600 pounds payload and an estimated 5,000 pounds towing as of this writing) he openly admits that contractors need not apply.

This truck “Isn’t about the jobsite” he stated during the Ridgeline’s introduction at the NAIAS, it’s “about the lifestyle.”

In short, the Ridgeline is for the hobbyists. People who need a truck for light duty projects and occasional hauling, but not a career building companion.  Campers, beach combers, motorcyclists, and kayakers are who Honda is aiming at; not landscapers, pool supply runners, and handymen.  Sure you can fit a sheet of plywood between its wheel wells in the bed, but you still have to lower the tailgate and have it stick out a little to have it lay flat.

Honda also insisted on keeping the spare tire tucked in a separate compartment under the floor of the bed. Not underneath the bed as other truck do, but in a mini trunk under the floor of the bed.  (The mini trunk also has a spot with drain plugs so you can turn it into a cooler.)  This would be such a hassle if you were carrying a load of gravel and you suddenly blew a tire on your way home.  But Honda thinks this will be a rare occurrence with its buyers.  This is reinforced by the addition of a new sound system for the bed and the vehicles front wheel drive layout.

Honda has found a way to turn its bed into a giant speaker using six of what it has named “Exciters”. The exciters vibrate the bed just like a magnet in a speaker, creating a large sound device.  Evidently Honda wants to be all about that base.

If that doesn’t shake up the market, the Ridgeline’s front wheel drive surely will. Besides being body on frame, all trucks have been designed with rear wheel drive as standard.  This is done so that when you put a load in the bed, it adds weight to the driving wheels and adds to their traction.  It also helps when towing. Truck purists are going to give the Ridgeline a long, sideways look before shaking their heads and moving on.  But, again, these are not the people Honda is aiming at.

The Honda Ridgeline is a recreational tool built for fun times. It comes with a six speed auto as its only transmission choice as well as an all-wheel drive option with a multimode terrain management system so owners don’t have to do any work in switching from front wheel drive to all wheel drive. It’s in bed 400 watt converter can power sawzalls and drills, but will more likely be used for margaritas and x-boxes.

Like every reboot, the Honda Ridgeline is high on gloss and shine. Only time will tell if it makes it into the heart of the buyers.

  • Sales numbers provided by left-lane.com
  • Quotes are from the 2016 NAIAS video on youtube

How to make the used family sedan cool

Photo by Edmunds.com

They drone silently along, dutifully performing their tasks with little to no fanfare.  Filling our roads, they perform flawlessly with all the romance of a toaster.  They are the family sedan.

Emblazed in colors of grey, white, or beige, these four door sedans are the wallflowers of the car culture.  Steady, secure, reliable, they are always there but stand in the garage when the dance of the road calls.

When it comes time to sell them, they are often the last choice, relegated to the crowds of minivans and grandpa mobiles.

Clearly the family sedan is in desperate need of a cultural makeover, but what to do?  There’s no throaty V-8 or high revving turbo to bring out the gear heads.  The street racer/drifter crowds have already picked out the econohatches as the build material of choice.  Autocrosses often feature two seat sports cars.  What niche can the sturdy family sedan stand out in?

Can anyone say rally?

photo by autoconception.com

Rally racing is that wonderfully hyper sport where drivers hurl their cars along at blinding speeds while the navigator yells out what blind turn is coming up next.

 

photo by hemmings.com

 

Here is a chance for the family sedan to finally shine.  These empty logging and mining roads can provide the stage to flaunt the abilities of both driver and machine.

The buildup can be affordable, too.  Just rip out the rear seat, throw in a roll cage and safety fuel cell, wear the standard racing helmet and suit, and you are ready to go!  The cost of the cars themselves is relatively cheap.  I’ve seen an incredible variety of cars in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.  (To help insure an entry level into this sport once it explodes into the mainstream, a stock class would be institutionalized that would limit the upper purchase price of the car and also limit the modifications to standard oem size shocks, brakes, fog lights, and mud and snow tires.  No engine, transmission, or drive train modifications allowed.  (No turning a front wheel drive car into a four wheeled drive car now.)

 

All cars must be street legal.  You have to be able to show off your race creds on the way to work now.

The classes are simple:

Stock or modified.

Rear – Front – All wheel drive

Four cylinder or six

Station wagons can compete alongside sedans in their perspective class unless there are enough entered to form their own class.  (Roughly five or more)

The cars allowed into this new racing:

Honda Accord

Chevrolet Malibu

Toyota Camry

Ford Contour

Dodge Stratus

Mazda 626

Nissan Altima

Subaru Legacy   (The Outback models should be in their own class or up against anyone who finds a Volvo Crosstrek or Audi in that price range.  [Verifiable proof of price will be needed.])

Hyundai, Kia, Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac, any car within that general size is allowed to race.  (The first person to rally a Jaguar X type will become my personal hero.)

photo from road and track magazine

No longer are these cars chained to the dull daily driving on the timid tarmac.  They are now free to leap in the crisp air as they bound through countryside, singing their engines as loud as their mufflers allow.  (Well, at least until an errant rock or hard landing jettisons it.)

This class of rally car (AS for class A – Sedan) will pull the family sedan off the wall and into the spotlight.

Tell anyone who’s curious that it kicks.

Thoughts of: Hurray for the Hobbit car or a bright little Sunbeam

Sometimes you discover lost treasures when you least expect it.  A few hours ago I was going through various posts from fellow bloggers over at the Trifecta Challenge when I was stopped dead in my tracks.  Imogen Shepard, author of Diary of a “Sensitive Soul’ , wrote about her Chrysler Sunbeam and the tragedy of losing that faithful companion.

Her words and the picture of that little Sunbeam made me think of all the small cars that have entered or influenced our lives in one way or another.  I remember my mother’s first and only work car, a Chevrolet Chevette. About the size of the modern day VW Golf, this car was rear wheel drive and had a very nice two tone paint job that made it look more expensive than it really was.  GM soon replaced it with the “J-car” platform known as the Cavlaier, Sunbird, Firenza, Cimmaron, and Skylark.  Chrysler modified the Sunbeam for America and named it the Omni and the Horizon.  Available in four doors only, they reminded me of the VW Rabbit more that the sleeker Sunbeam.  Ford had the mega hit of the 80s with its Escort and Lynx.  Honda had the Civic.  Mazda had the 323. Toyota had the Corrola.  Nissan had the Sentra.  These were not the first small cars in our country but they marked a time when the small car made a large statement to the world.  It was also a way for manufacturers to reach their federally mandated CAFÉ standards.

There is an inherent magic in these little cars that is hard to find in larger automobiles.  Their set weights and dimensions give them a playfulness that reminds you of a puppy more than an inanimate object.  Aimed at a younger market, the designers are free to play around and add personality to these vehicles without harming any set reputation.  Commercials were created showcasing the fun and free lifestyle of owning them.  Given everything, is it any wonder why so many people formed such personal bonds with these light, little cars?

Some of these cars had amazing lives as well.  Dodge used some of their Neons in a celebrity challenge in the Grand Prix circuit.  Used three cylinder GEO Metros and Suzuki Swifts became Group-A style rally cars in the Colorado mountains.  Other small cars skipped the cones fantastic in multiple autocrosses on weekends all over the country.  These little cars did more road dancing than most muscle cars did.  They got fewer tickets doing it, too.

Today the torch has been passed on to cars with names of Fiesta, Dart, Sonic, Accent, 3 series, and Fit.  They are still nimble.  They are still small.  They are still fun.  That’s the best part of all.

So take a moment and revel in the fact that the hobbit of the car world are still around to enchant and enjoy.

And thanks to Imogen and her Sunbeam for inspiring me to write this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts of: The American Honda Motorcycle Company

I have a question for you.  Why is it that we have three main auto companies in the United States with a total of eight brands and yet when it comes to motorcycles, we only have two companies, selling two brands, at just one market?  (Ok.  If you want to get technical, Indian is sold separately by Polaris, making it a third brand.)

Everyone knows the first company, Harley/Davidson.

The second is Polaris with their Victory and Indian brands.

While they have multiple motorcycles in their stable, they all appeal to the same demographic.

To put it another way, let’s say H/D is Lincoln and that Polaris is Cadillac.  Both aim at the mid to late 30’s and up buyer.  You get the same style engine, same style layout (seating position), and shoot for the same presence.  One is styled more to the art-deco style of design (Victory/Cadillac), while the other is more formal (Harley/Lincoln).  Indian would be a retro styled caddy sharing a platform with the DTS.

Either way, you’re looking at a cruiser in the mid 14K range and wearing black leather.  One says you’re a bad ass, the other says you’re a sophisticated bad ass.  Where’s the diversity?  (That’s what their marketing pushes, so don’t yell at me for saying it. I know that there are a lot of riders out there who don’t give a damn about the market image, and in a way, that’s what this is about.)

Let’s look at our overseas competition, Honda and Suzuki.  What choices do they offer?

Touring, Cruiser, Standard, Adventure, Sport, Dual Sport, and Off Road.

That’s a wide segment reaching a variety demographics.

Why don’t we have this?  Where is the American Dual Sport?  Where is our Standard or Adventure?  How come there isn’t an American motorcycle company offering engines smaller than 800ccs?  This is America, we love having choices!  Where is our choice when it comes to American motorcycles?

If I was going to create a new American motorcycle company, this is how I would do the line-up.

First would be a small engine standard.  250 cc to go against the Nighthawk and the TU250

Then I’d have one in the 500-600 cc range

These two bikes would also be the foundation for the Off Road, Dual Sport, and Adventure slots with unique suspension and frame modifications to fit the necessary niche.  (For example:  A 600 cc Adventure would have more suspension travel that the standard, but less that the Off Road; and your seating/leg positions would be set for the maximum comfort and strength needed for the task.  More upright for off road, more relaxed for cross country.)  I’d also expand to a 250 entry level sport bike.

I’d have a 1,000 cc engine for the cruiser, sport, touring, and adventure slots.

And I’d have a big 1,800 for the high zoot touring and adventure models.

All engines would be water-cooled, and they would be based off one engine platform for cost savings.  (This is where the engineers and other technical people have to step up and suggest which cc size to start from.  The 600 or the 1,000.)

You price the line up about $1,000 less than the direct competition from Honda and Suzuki.  (Maybe $3,000 less on the high zoot tourer.)  And then you market the hell out of them!

You run an ad campaign just like the one’s Suzuki did for their Samurai.   “Beep-beep.  Hi!”

You avoid the whole black leather, scowling look thing and push the friendly, outgoing attitude.

You want to expand to scooters, go for it!

And name the damn bikes!  I can’t stand these alpha-numeric “names” on cars today. Want some examples?  Here ya go.

The Standard is the Palomino

The Cruiser is the Thoroughbred.

The Adventure is called the Mustang.  (Deal with it Ford.)

The Sport bike is called the Furioso

The Tourer is called the Morgan

The Dual Sport is called the Holstein

The Off Road is the Appaloosa

Every name is from a horse and calls up the old American spirit.  This is great for advertising, marketing, and emotional attachment to the buyer/owner.

So what do you think?  Is there a place in the motorcycle market for an American company that sells types beyond cruisers and tourers?  Do you think someone should start a company like this? What would you do to tweak it here or there?

Give me your thoughts.  If anything it’s a fun exercise.