American Odyssey

Q with car partThanks to Rocky from the local Honda dealer parts department, I have learned that the car part of my obsessions comes from a first generation (1994-1998) Honda Odyssey minivan. It was the first minivan Honda ever created, designed and built specifically for Americans.

Honda actually canceled the project after Japan’s economy tanked in the nineties, but the chief engineer, Kunimichi Odagaki, felt so committed to it that he continued to develop it unofficially and persisted until he convinced the higher-ups at the company to build it. The Honda web site has a pretty extensive history.

The first generation Odyssey was built in Japan. Today, all the Odysseys for the American market come from a plant in Lincoln, Alabama.

When Honda launched the new Odyssey design in 2011, Vicki Poponi, assistant vice president of product planning for Honda America, said “Whether you’re driving in Oregon or Orlando, Milwaukee or Mobile — everyone in this great, glorious nation of ours will know that every ‘American Odyssey’ has its roots right here in Lincoln, Alabama.”

The Odyssey sets the standard for American minivans — it is usually a top seller and top award-winner. It won the U.S. News #1 minivan award this year (though I have seen no evidence that it will take one to the land of the dead to converse with shades).

The 2014 Touring Elite model (starting price $45,280) received a Very Innovative Product Award from Good Housekeeping because it comes with a built-in vacuum cleaner, the HondaVAC™, tucked into the cargo space in the back. “Our staff members could let their kids snack in transit for the very first time, stress free,” said the magazine.

The page for the Odyssey on the Official Honda Site includes an ad in the tradition of contemporary American odysseys like Toy Story and Lego Movie. It opens with a shot of six characters — an animal cracker (lion I think), a blue crayon broken at the tip, a bright yellow plastic soldier with parachute folded on his back, a red gummy bear, a partly eaten green sucker, and a popcorn kernel.

It’s a 29 second narrative packed with details. I had to watch several times to get them all. The gang is crowded around the owner’s manual. It seems one of their tribe is trapped inside something called the “cooling box,” and they are trying to find a way to get this creature out. Gummy gets distracted, reading off all the van’s cool specs. Meanwhile Crayon keeps tapping frantically at the page. “What??!!” says Gummy, annoyed and Crayon leaps up and circles the phrase HondaVAC.

“This sucks,” says Gummy (get it?) and popcorn kernel pops, presumably out of fear, just as the black vacuum hose comes to disappear them forever.

The fine print on the vacuum notes that it can run for up to eight minutes when the engine is off. For a really thorough clean, I guess you need to idle.


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