Motor Co. Ltd.'s model-year 2000 lineup includes two new sporty little 2-seaters that couldn't be less alike.
TheS2000 is a rocketing push-button-start roadster, which couples a sky-high-revving, 2L 4-cyl. engine with a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission. What we have is Honda's second rear-drive car ever to hit U.S. pavement, sporting 240 hp, and the ability to do 0 to 60 mph (97km/h) in short of 6 seconds. Quite unsensible, quite un-Honda.
At the opposing end of the spectrum, Honda debuts the 2000 Insight, a nifty gasoline/electric 2-seat hybrid boasting the best fuel economy in the game. Honda says the car averages better than 70 mpg (3.4L/100 km), city/highway combined. What makes it go is Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system; it combines a lightweight 1L, 3-cyl. engine with an electric motor that provides extra "go" when needed.
Honda expects to sell only about 5,000 of these fuel-sippers a year, but that's not the point. The point is strategic positioning, Honda's bread and butter. Both of Honda's new products give the automaker sitting-pretty positioning for coming markets. If the "environmentalism thing" catches on in America, the Insight will be waiting. If not, no one can say Honda didn't give "green" a go.
With the S2000, Honda glides to the center of the roadster craze - but at about $10,000 under the cost of current segment leaders, theZ3, Porsche Boxster and Mercedes-Benz SLK. Anyone could have guessed that non-luxury makers soon would put out less expensive knock-offs of those premium-brand roadsters - Honda just got there first.
Neither new Honda is a mainstream car; however both vehicles reflect the good, old Honda pragmatic approach that has created armies of Accord faithful. And both get the added bonus of that Honda reputation for quality - the virtue that has launched the Odyssey as the new "must have" entry in the richly competitive minivan segment.
Honda always has capitalized on its ability to keep a flexible, agile edge. That's why when Honda President Hiroyuki Yoshino stood up and declared that Honda's not merging with anyone, he was taken seriously.
Mr. Yoshino explained that the carmaker does not embrace the bigger-is-better theory. Rather, his theory is that quicker is better, and staying small (if anyone would term Honda "small") is the only way to convert flexibility into speed.
So, in a few years, when other automakers are busy restructuring, merging, buying and selling-off, Honda, one can imagine, will be busy flying solo. And whatever direction it's flying, it's a safe bet Honda will be among the first to arrive.