Category Archives: Honda

Honda flies in face of reality

Speaking of planes, here’s how Honda attempts to get consumers to actually watch a TV commercial. This spot aired live in Britain last night, showing a team of skydivers spelling out H-O-N-D-A as they plunge to earth. Incredibly silly … and yet we watched the whole thing.

Honda and agency Wieden & Kennedy London get bonus points for airing the backstory on a blog and for a clever series of teaser spots that were unbranded, hinting at the upcoming jump. With 1 in 4 homes now possessing DVRs that can skip commercials, gritty realism is still worth a look.

$4.19 gas, or why Apple will design your next car

$4.19 a gallon. Today, in central Connecticut. We actually turned our SUV around, pulled over, snapped this photo — and realized, like that little corn we ignored on a foot until it struck a deep nerve, man, we have a problem.

You see, we Americans are an insular lot. Most of us couldn’t name four countries in Africa if you paid us (Egypt is in Africa, true or false?), yet the news rumblings are starting to get through. Costco is rationing rice; James Kunstler predicts peak oil will end suburban sprawl; The Economist says another 100 million people will tip into absolute poverty due to food shortages this year. When the price of bread and milk and, yes, gasoline goes through the roof, we get it.

And that means design will change.

Not design in a trivial sense; not layouts or brands or women’s clothing. We mean the design of how people live. Kunstler explains better than us that as oil supplies are tapped out, all the cheap habits based on petroleum will be squeezed away — long commutes, big-box stores filled with oranges from California, even the plastics that create the keypad on the computer in front of you.

Which means people will need new designs to structure how they live. Some marketers are ahead of the curve on this. BP rebranded beautifully a few years back as “Beyond Petroleum.” Honda has launched a hydrogen-powered car prototype that could be fueled from a home power station, circumventing the need for hydrogen gas stations on every city corner.

If your business isn’t thinking 10 years out on the designs that people will clamor for in a world of diminished energy, you are going to miss the boat.

It all reminds us of a trip to Italy years ago. We, as Americans, couldn’t believe how small the cars seemed, how elegant the shoes and phones and food; heck, ice cream had less sugar and pasta less salt. We eventually acclimated to the lean culture only to return to the States and be stunned again by the apparent bloat of American consumers — walking around in sweat pants and sneakers, drinking from oversized coffee sippy cups. For two days it was like being at recess.

But American habits are changing. The iPhone is an elegant handheld computer. The Mini Cooper has won raves for its sporty handling. People are investing in home theaters instead of going out, learning how to cook again in remodeled kitchens. McDonald’s and cinemas have responded by adding wood paneling, to say, look, we can be streamlined, too.

When gasoline hits $5 and then $6, lean will be the aesthetic of choice. The designers, like Honda, who have proven they can think ahead in new markets will be the first to capture emerging demand.

So look at new markets. Start designing lean things. Watch out for outsiders with brains who are evaluating your own industry. Because our bet is Apple will not only do music and video; soon they will be rethinking your car.

Honda Clarity: How to lead a market to product

You’ve heard for years that car engines could be powered by hydrogen — a clean fuel that emits nothing but water vapor. Trouble is, the economy is locked into a petroleum fuel infrastructure, and automakers and energy companies have been caught in a stalemate. Auto producers won’t build cars unless someone can fuel them; energy companies won’t invest in thousands of hydrogen stations unless cars exist to take the fuel.

And so, our cleanest technology lies unused. Sure, your Hummer could get huge torque with a hydrogen engine. But the barriers to entry are just too high.

Enter Honda in 2008. Honda (like other automakers) has been experimenting with hydrogen cars since the late 1990s. This summer, it will begin sales of its FCX Clarity in three cities in California (Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine, where hydrogen refueling stations now exist). And Honda is also developing a home recharging system for the car, which converts natural gas into electricity (for the home) and hydrogen (to refuel the car). This would circumvent the entire problem of no hydrogen fuel stations, by converting any gas-heated home into your personal Hydrogen Mobil stop.

This last move is most interesting. What if Honda became a global power in providing the energy that runs cars? What if 110 million U.S. households eventually realized, hey, we could put a cheap generator on our house, take us off the grid, and fuel up every morning?

Honda could be moving into a whole new realm of energy provision. Oil companies and other automakers had better pay attention, or they may just be passed out of the new energy loop.