It was probably during the dot-com boom that the marketing department at Honda Automobiles thought “all those young white guys who snowboard all winter and surf, bike and kayak all summer need a car designed just for them.” So they sought out said guys, asked ’em what they’d love to have in car, and went back to their clever designers and engineers and said “this one can’t miss, guys. Just make it cool and not too expensive.”
In 2003 the Honda Element showed up in car showrooms, looking like maybe it wanted to be a Hummer when it grew up. It came with an optional moon roof in the back of the car, so surfer dudes could stand up in the car and change out of their wetsuits without embarrasing the tourists. But with the boom over, hardly any of those edgy, cool, Ipod-listening young guys had much use for Honda’s inspired ugly duckling. Turns out their moms did, though, so the car was a moderate success. Actually, Honda builds such impossibly reliable, practical cars that almost anything the company builds will sell but still: it was cool to see an OK outcome from a marketing plan that didn’t work out as planned.
I’m bringing all this up because I’m test-driving a new Element this morning and thinking very strongly about buying one. It’s got tons of space for car camping and is designed for people to track dirt and sand into. And my six-year-old Ford Focus, bless it’s rattle-trap soul, has 95,000 miles on it and has to be considered on life support from here on in. I’m keeping it, though, because I’d rather bear the expense of having a second car than suffer the indignity of its trade-in value. When it’s last mile nears I’ll donate it to PBS or something.
I’m dealing with carsdirect.com on the transaction — seems to be going well so far but I’ll report back on how it all works out.
I read a post from a forum for Element owners in which a guy describes a visit to his Honda dealer; he says to the salesman “none of those hikers or campers are actually buying these things, are they?” and the salesman confesses: “No.” Well, there might be one.