Talk the Talk, but Don’t Drive the Car


When it comes to fighting global warming, most of my "greener" friends talkthe talk. Fewer walk the walk by biking to or living within walkingdistance of work, and virtually none drives "the car." The car is Honda'sgas-electric hybrid Insight, and data show that the Greens'archenemies -- Republicans -- have taken to the cute little thing indisproportionate numbers. Why aren't Greens driving the car?

Greens still think that the government is impeding the flow ofenergy-efficient technology. I witnessed an example of this last September,when I participated in a panel discussion with NASA global warming scientistJames Hansen. Advocating the green side, Hansen argued that the maindifference between our positions was our belief in the role of government. Imaintained that people would adopt more efficient technologies on their ownbecause, eventually, some will produce more output for less cost. He thoughtthe government should "remove the obstacles" to the development and purchaseof efficient technology.

Most people who go to meetings like that are convinced that global warmingis a terrible problem. They hold other stereotypes, too, includingassumptions about the lifestyle and mores of people who think it isn't aproblem. So the audience gasped when I pointed out that the there were nopolice roadblocks that prevented me from taking delivery on the 70mpgInsight I bought the previous month.

I bought a 2000 silver Insight, serial number 2630, on August 3, the dayafter it rolled off the truck at my local dealer alongside red serial number2999. When I took it in for its 7,500-mile service last week, 2999 wasstill sitting there, along with a lot of other Insights around the nation.A remarkable one-third of the 5,600-odd Insights shipped here were not soldas of Dec. 31.

Trying to figure out why the Greens aren't buying is difficult. Unlike alot of cars, Insight meets its EPA mileage figures. The Agency gives acombined city-highway efficiency for this model at 65mpg (61 city, 70highway). Seventy-seven owners on have an average of63.0. My lifetime mpg, shown by the flashy onboard computer, is 67.2.Recently it gave me 70.5 from rural Virginia to Washington, averaging aroundseven miles above the speed limit on 160 miles of federal and interstatehighways.

Maybe they don't like the fact that it's a two-seater, but many of my Greenpals are unmarried, childless or drive alone. Anyway, the "average" car has1.4 occupants. Maybe they don't like the fact that its short wheelbasemakes it a bit choppy, but, hey, these people eat kale and smile.

Instead, what has happened is a surprise to those who thought Insight wouldbe a "greeniemobile." Mean old Republicans are buying the car. One surveyshows they outnumber Democrats two-to-one. The only Insight owner I know inCongress is Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah).

Like Sen. Bennett, who is awed by the design, Republicans are attracted tothe machine. The all-aluminum Insight is the highest piece of rollingtechnology the common man can own. It has a drag coefficient of 0.25, thelowest of any mass-produced car in history. The onboard computing anddisplay is stunning, tracking the microprocessors as they seamlessly swappower back and forth between the electric and gas motors. Because theelectric engine kicks in whenever the pistons are in opposed position, twicein every revolution, the combined motive system is as smooth as an old Mazdarotary engine (which got 17 mpg). Most of the slowing of the car is done bya dynamic brake (as in a railroad locomotive) when the current to the motorreverses (making it a drag-inducing generator) as you tap on the pedal.There's no plug. It charges itself while the gas engine loafs.

Techno-nerds and computer geeks trend Republican. They believe thattechnology, not government, is the key to the future. Nor is the governmentpreventing anyone from buying this car, or keeping Honda from losing fivefigures per copy, on a vehicle that can be bought for $18,000 from dealerswho want to unload their old inventory.

The loss-leading Insight was designed to defuse the Greens in a prospectiveGore presidency, while all those Accords, Civics and Legends protect thecompany's bottom line. Where are they now? Fifty-three million Gore andNader voters have bought perhaps 1,000 Insights. They'll talk the talk,they'll conjure that the government is preventing them from purchasingefficient products, but they won't drive a 70mpg car they can buy at asteal.

If Honda jerks the Insight -- the Greens' best chance to drive lightly on theearth -- they'll have no one to blame but themselves. Meanwhile, theirRepublican friends will own collector's items worth hundreds of thousands ofdollars a few decades from now.