Almost 20 years ago, a friend who sat on the National Acura Dealers Council was invited to attend meetings in Japan with Honda’s top executives to discuss their long-term plans. Unlike here in the States, where our entire business focus seems to be what the stock price for GoPro will be on Monday, Honda’s top people laid out then where their automotive focus would be, not just five years out, but in 2050, the year that Honda believed would mark the end of the Oil Age.
As it turned out, most of the Japanese automakers had studied the oil industry and its known and potential future reserves. All had come to almost the identical conclusion — that oil would cease to be a viable commodity in this century’s middle year.
So, shortly after that conference, Honda introduced the Civic GX, which would run on natural gas. At the same time, all manufacturers walked away from their first generation of electric cars in California, thinking them a poor investment that would never pan out. Still, as the natural gas-powered Civic came to market, so did the world’s first mass-production hybrid electric, the Honda Insight. That vehicle would quickly be followed by the more mainstream and far more successful Toyota Prius.
No one here ever connected these much more fuel-efficient vehicles’ arrival with the 1997 meetings between some Japanese automakers and their best dealers, warning them that within five decades their current business model would not longer be viable