Hawaii 2016 Photo Reports: The cars of the Big Island

2. Charlie Mauna Kea 3Charlie at the top of Mauna Kea (4.205m) – April 2016

After a tour of Honolulu and the O’ahu island, we now fly 45 mins south east to land on the Big Island, the nickname for the Hawai’i island. At 4.028 square miles (10.432 km2), as its nickname indicates Hawai’i is by far the largest island in the archipelago but also the largest in the entire United States. A lot less industrialised, it is however home to just 185.000 souls compared to just under one million in O’ahu. If the ambiance in O’ahu was particularly chilled compared to the mainland, the Big Island takes it up a notch further.

Toyota Tacoma HiloToyota Tundra in Kona

The Kona airport “huts” have no walls, every building apart from the restaurant is exposed to the light breeze and the locals are decidedly welcoming, such as Greg, the owner of the big-wheeled 2010 Jeep Wrangler I rented through private rental app Turo. Greg offered free delivery through the app even though he lives in Captain Cook, a good 35 mins drive from the airport. A relaxed handover and I was off in my Jeep, that I have decided to baptise Charlie – after Albert the Ram 1500 from my U.S. Coast to Coast 2014 Reports and Bob from my U.S. North to South 2015 Reports.

1. Ford Mustang Punalu'uFord Mustang and Charlie in Punalu’u – April 2016

Within the first five minutes of driving, I had already spotted two new generation Toyota Tacoma, a frankly higher ratio than in more developed O’ahu where I had to wait for my third day there for this to happen. More rugged, the Big Island is an even better terrain for the Tacoma to flourish in the sales charts. In fact, there are three main nameplates on the Big Island, all reaching similar ratios within the local car parc but for wildly different reasons: the Toyota Tacoma, here too the locals’ favourite, the Toyota 4Runner is the default SUV in the island and this was a surprise at such a high level, and finally the Jeep Wrangler, putting in the numbers on the Big Island to compensate for a relative weakness in O’ahu. The Wrangler is absolutely everywhere on touristic spots such as the Mauna Kea National Park, which indicates a very high take-up rate by rental companies.

4. Toyota 4Runner Ranger Mauna KeaToyota 4Runner Ranger in Mauna Kea National Park

Having organized this trip only a couple of weeks in advance, I couldn’t find any 4WD available on the “traditional” rental channels, which was my first motivation to try private rental app Turo. After a much steeper bill than expected in O’ahu for my 2014 Ford Mustang, I was determined to keep costs down this time and made sure I took the Wrangler through a carwash before returning it, which cost $10. The $85 per day advertised price transformed into $111 once the 30% taxes and Turo’s cut were added, or $333 for three days, $343 with the carwash. If in O’ahu the additional fees uppd the one-day rental rate to almost the same level as a traditional car rental, here the situation is vastly different because if it were not for Turo, I couldn’t have rented a 4WD full stop.

5. Ford F250 Mauna Kea 2Ford F-250, Explorer and Expedition at Mauna Kea Summit – April 2016

And that would have considerably cut what I would have been able to do on the island. The unsealed road ascension to the Mauna Kea summit, peaking at 13.796 ft or 4.205m, is indeed only accessible with a 4WD. That didn’t prevent a valiant Nissan Versa to make it to the summit, but it was the only 2WD vehicle up there.

Hawaii-Big-Island-3D3D representation of the Hawai’i island 

Being an active volcanic island, Hawai’i is never flat: you are either climbing or descending a steep road at almost any moment you find yourself driving here. A tough ask for the cars streaming along the local roads, and another proof that Toyota and Jeep have what it takes to convince local buyers once the conditions get tough.

6. Charlie on Turo Ford F-250 at Mauna KeaCharlie on Turo, Ford F-250 at Mauna Kea Summit – April 2016

A friend of mine recently described driving a Jeep Wrangler offroad as akin to pushing a shopping trolley on an uneven track. I chose to dismiss this opinion as overly dramatic. I shouldn’t have. Switching to 4WD once the road became unsealed, the overly rigid Wrangler’s suspension made sure every single bone in my spine noticed the tiniest bump in the road.

And when hundreds of vehicles go up and down the same track each day, bumps in the road there are. Millions of them. Two weeks after this trip I can still feel the rattling in my bones (nearly). All the cars I followed had their wheels doing the hard work with the cabin oblivious to it, I was all too conscious the road was unsealed.

7. Samantha Mauna KeaSamantha having the best time during the Mauna Kea ascension.

Hopefully Jeep has improved this stiffness in its later models. If not, I am not driving a Wrangler again. Ever. Despite this, the ascension to the top of Mauna Kea, effectively taking you from sea level to 4.205m in 90 minutes (30 of them unsealed), is as magical as these figures let you imagine. The weather has time to change multiple times as you pass through clouds and reach well above into the sky.

13. Mauna KeaTop of Mauna Kea with Maui island in the background. 

The view is on adjacent island Maui but the sides of the Mauna Kea volcano are so steep that you don’t really see that much landscape below you. The information center at the Mauna Kea National Park entrance warns against altitude sickness and is absolutely right to do so, even advising to stop mid-way through the ascension which is actually impossible, the unsealed road only just able to contain a two-way traffic at times.

8. Jeep Wrangler Punalu'uIt’s a Jeep Wrangler world. In Punalu’u

On top, 3 different observation sites house various scientific teams, and as it was the case in another godforsaken U.S. location I visited recently (Prudhoe Bay), Ford fleets dominate: the Ford F-250, Expedition and Explorer are the favourites, as well as the Nissan Xterra.

9. Honda Ridgeline KonaHonda Ridgeline in Kona

If O’ahu showed a very strong heritage of mid-size pickups, Hawai’i builds on this with more full-size pickups as well, notably the Honda Ridgeline, omnipresent on the island, the Ram 1500-3500 and Nissan Titan. On top of the Jeep Wrangler, successful vehicles with rental companies include the Ford Edge, Jeep Compass and Chrysler 200 while the locals seem to also have a weakness for the Nissan Quest and new generation Honda Pilot.

10. Nissan Frontier KonaNissan Frontier in Kona

That is all for our Hawaii Photo Reports, stay tuned for the next iteration of our China exploration shortly.

The Big Island Photo Report continues below.

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Hawaii 2016 Photo Reports: The cars of O’ahu

1. Ford Mustang Oahu2 x Ford Mustang in O’ahu’s east Coast – March 2016

After studying the unique sales charts of the state of Hawaii and the very peculiar domination of the Toyota Tacoma, it is now time for on-the-ground observation to try and unveil additional specificities in this market. I had the chance to visit two islands in the archipelago recently: O’ahu and Hawai’i. We’ll start with O’ahu, by far the most populated island in the state with over 950.000 inhabitants, where I also got to “test drive” the Turo private rental app for the first time. My impressions are below.

2. Nissan Sentra HonoluluNissan Sentra in Waikiki Beach

The Hawaii feel is distinctly different from the mainland, and this is noticeable as soon as you land at Honolulu airport. There is an unmistakeable laidback atmosphere and a slower, less hectic rhythm that seems to be a characteristic of island life. The taxis are not you stock standard Ford Crown Victoria, instead I got to reach Waikiki Beach in a rather iconic 10 years-old Chevy Tahoe. The experience was definitely more akin to a Uber ride than an official LA or NYC taxi with plastic partitions between driver and customer: sitting in the front seat is welcome and the driver was all to eager to point at all the recognisable landmarks of the island on the way such as Diamond Head. The most frequent taxis on O’ahu are the more traditional Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey, large enough to embark a full family or small tour group.

2. Toyota Tacoma WaikikiToyota Tacoma in Waikiki Beach

The Tacoma supremacy witnessed in the sales ranking for the past two decades is clearly apparent in the car parc. The comments of Servco Toyota Kaneohe Sales Consultant Noe Yaplag help understand why the Tacoma seems even more successful than its new car market share score indicates: Blue Book residual value is very high for the Tacoma in Hawaii, therefore once bought as new they tend to stick around, further increasing their frequency in the Hawaii traffic. However for the first two days I was on the island I did not spot a single new generation Tacoma, whereas I did see a handful of new gen Ford F-150. I soon learned that the Tacoma is (logically) more popular outside the densely populated areas that are inner city Honolulu and Waikiki, as I spotted no less than 15 in a few hours of driving around the island.

3. Toyota Tacoma Oahu 2Toyota Tacoma

Mainly a holiday destination, the passenger car landscape of O’ahu is heavily influenced by rental cars. Those Nissan Altima, Toyota Corolla, RAV4, Honda CR-V and Chevy Camaro you see in the 2015 Top 10 best-sellers are there mainly because of tourism. It goes the same for the Nissan Sentra: it spotted a high amount of facelifted models even though they’ve only been on sale since late 2015. But the one car that will remain symbolic of my stay in Hawaii is the Ford Mustang. It is the passenger car of choice for honeymooners and locals alike here, and the current gen is being snapped up by rental companies like there is no tomorrow. A genuine surprise to see it outsold by the Camaro in the 2015 sales charts.

4. Toyota Tacoma WaimanaloToyota Tacoma

The Jeep Wrangler certainly does not justify its third position overall in the state by O’ahu sales and must enjoy a significantly higher market share in other island to leap up to #3 overall. Indeed, we’ll see this happen in the Hawai’i island shortly. The Renegade is doing reasonably well here, and we can start seeing a long habit of Jeep purchase on the island, just not at the same rate as the rest of the state.

5. Ford Ranger Waikiki BeachFord Ranger in Waikiki Beach

Among other nameplates that stood out during my visit, the Ford Transit is already very well established with organised tours and airport shuttle bus companies, the Dodge Journey seems to also be particularly successful with rental companies and the Kia Soul is popular with locals. There is a strong Scion heritage with the xB a former best-seller and a handful of iA also spotted in only a couple of hous. But the brand that should win the Hawaii passenger car race is Nissan. Toyota of course is the overall leader as detailed in our Hawaiian 2015 sales article.

6. Honolulu PoliceFord Taurus Police in Waikiki

Building on the tremendous success of the Toyota Tacoma, the one segment that has clearly been dominating the Hawaiian market for decades is mid-size pickups. The Nissan Frontier has been extremely successful for years and this clearly shows in the Hawaiian car landscape, and the Ford Ranger, when it was still part of the Ford U.S. lineup, also used to sell very well here, notably as a Lifesaver vehicle as pictured in this article. Needless to say the made-in-Thailand facelifted Ford Ranger, unavailable in the United States but currently threatening the mighty Toyota Hilux in a few significant worldwide markets such as South-East Asia, Australia and South Africa, would be a surefire hit here.

9. Toyota Tacoma Maili BeachToyota Tacoma

The long heritage of mid-size pickups is also visible through the presence of nameplates that have become extremely rare on the mainland, such as the GMC Sonoma, Dodge Dakota or Mazda B-Series. However the return of General Motors in this segment last year hasn’t yet gelled with the Hawaiian customer: I only spotted one new gen GMC Canyon and two Chevy Colorado in the four days I stayed on the island.

8. Ford Mustang Jeep Wrangler OahuFord Mustang and Jeep Wrangler 

My stay in O’ahu was also a great opportunity to test a great app we don’t have just yet in Australia: Turo, previously known as Relay Share. Incredibly practical, Turo allows you to rent a private car for as little or as much time as you like. There is also an option to ask the owner to pick you up anywhere, such as the airport or your hotel. Some owners charge for that service, some other don’t as long as you are located close enough from where they live. There is also an “Instant Booking” function like on Airbnb. In fact, think of it as Airbnb for cars.

10. Toyota Tacoma Waimea BayToyota Tacoma in North Shore, O’ahu March 2016

Generally priced lower than the equivalent car at rental car companies, Turo’s main (and capital as far as I am concerned) advantage is that you can choose the car you want to drive, rather than having a bland model imposed on you. I opted for a 2014 Ford Mustang for $60 a day (rather than $129 in a rental company for a 2016 model or Chevy Camaro – you never know what you’ll get). But as for everything you purchase in the U.S. – and very frustratingly for the French-Australian that I am – the advertised price always ends up being significantly higher, once all taxes and supplements are added. $60 actually means $78.

Fiat 500X OahuFiat 500X

All went really well and the Mustang allowed me to tour the island in the 12 hours I rented it for. The drop-off was at my hotel, we shook hands with the owner who took the wheel and drove off. Perfect. This is where it got a little hairy. Around 9am the following day, I received a terse email from Turo labelled “Policy Violation”. Heavens. Will I have to report to the police? What road rules have I broken this time? Turns out, the owner found that the car wasn’t as clean as when I picked it up, and decided to splurge $30 on a full carwash. I’ll admit there was a tiny bit of mud on the car, but after inspecting it I gaged that it wasn’t anything that warranted a carwash before returning the car. Now if you live in the U.S., you will know that in order to spend $30 on a carwash you need to go well overboard in terms of features. $10 is standard for a carwash here.

GMC Canyon Makapu'u PointThe only new generation GMC Canyon I spotted on O’ahu.

I can picture the Mustang’s owner washing 3 cars for this price. Thing is, under Turo rules the owner has 24 hours to report any cleanliness issues (and so technically could dirt up the car after getting it back then claim the wash) and all expenses get transferred to the customer, plus a $10 administrative fee, plus tax. Not so much of a big deal when you rent a car for a full week, but when it’s a short rental and this increases your fee by over 50%, it can leave you peeved off, and I was, not helped by dismissive communication from Turo and the owner.

I learnt my lesson and it should be one for you if you are thinking of using Turo in the future: Wash. The. Car before returning it, no exceptions, even if you think it’s as clean as when you took it, because the owner has 24 further hours to do what they want, unless you take pictures of the car at the time you returned it. In the end, for each advertised price on Turo you need to add 30% for taxes and Turo’s cut, as well as at least $10 for the carwash. Not knowing this cost me a total of $118 for one day for an advertised price of $60, almost totally cancelling the benefits of the app vs. a professional car rental service.

I will try another car on the Hawai’i island, also called the Big Island. Stay tuned…

The O’ahu Photo Report continues below.

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Hawaii (USA) Full Year 2015: Toyota Tacoma upholds decades-long reign

1. Toyota Tacoma WindwardToyota Tacoma in Servco Toyota Kaneohe, O’ahu Hawaii – March 2016

* See the Top 10 best-selling models by clicking on the title *

You can see the sales figures for each U.S. State here

After Alaska, we now cover Full Year 2015 results for another isolated U.S. state: Hawaii, with such a peculiar environment triggering a unique new light vehicle market that a separate annual report is warranted. Keep in mind the figures detailed in this report are already included in the annual U.S. data published on BSCB as this is a special focus only. Further Photo Reports on Hawaii will follow shortly.

Hawaii map by MapblissHawaii map courtesy of mapbliss

Home of 1.4 million inhabitants, the Hawaiian Islands are located 2.000 miles (3.200 km) southwest of the “mainland” as the continental United States is known here, making Hawaii the southernmost U.S. state but not the westernmost: Alaska goes further west as you can see on the map above. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that is not geographically located in North America, the only one in which coffee is cultivable and the only one that has never recorded sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures, with its record low temperature being 12 °F (−11 °C) observed in May 1979 on the summit of Mauna Kea.

Toyota Tacoma Oahu 1 2 x Toyota Tacoma in Servco Toyota Kaneohe, O’ahu Hawaii – March 2016

Hawaii is also the only state to crown the Toyota Tacoma as its overall best-seller, and the mid-size pickup has been the favourite vehicle on the archipelago for at least 13 years, with reports of it being #1 surfacing as far back as 2003 when it sold 3.736 units. In 2004, with 3.969 sales it distanced the Chevrolet Cavalier (3.399) and among trucks the Ford F-Series (2.560), Nissan Frontier (2.262), Ford Explorer (1.934) and Chevrolet Trailblazer (1.645). Fast forward to 2015, and the Tacoma has remained on its coveted throne, even strengthening its hold on the Hawaiian market.

Toyota Tacoma Tundra Oahu Toyota Tundra and Tacoma in Servco Toyota Kaneohe, O’ahu Hawaii – March 2016

Toyota is the best-selling car manufacturer in Hawaii in 2015 and holds a mammoth 56% share in the light truck segment. According to 247wallst.com, Hawaii is also the only state in the country where Toyota is the most popular brand based on Internet searches, all industries combined. Even more impressive, according to Servco Toyota Kaneohe Sales Consultant Noe Yaplag, the Tacoma holds 78% of the mid-size pickup market, and this despite the recent return of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, still very rare on the O’ahu island I visited.

2. Nissan Altima Pearl HarborNissan Altima in Pearl Harbor, O’ahu Hawaii – March 2016

According to the magazine Popular Mechanics, the Toyota Tacoma sells around eight times faster in Hawaii than it does across the U.S. Keep in mind almost all Tacomas are retail sales in Hawaii as rental companies focus on passenger cars such as the Nissan Altima, Toyota Corolla or Nissan Sentra or SUVs such as the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota RAV4. In 2015, the Tacoma even widened the gap with its direct followers with sales up 5% year-on-year to 3.951 units, vs. just 1.795 for the Nissan Altima, down 27%. The rest of the Top 6: the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and CR-V also all lose ground. The Chevrolet Camaro and Toyota 4Runner make their appearance inside the Top 10 while the Nissan Sentra is down 22% to #10.

3. Jeep Wrangler Punalu'u2 x Jeep Wrangler in Big Island Hawaii – April 2016

So what is behind the tremendous and unique popularity of the Toyota Tacoma in Hawaii? There are a few elements at play. Noe Yaplag from Servco Toyota Kaneohe advances a few explanations: the Tacoma is now purchased as a family car as well as a workhorse – following the worldwide trend away from passenger cars and towards more sophisticated pickup trucks – its price is range remains contained to US$27k-35k and the new generation brought some segment-leading features such as a very practical wireless phone charging deck. But for Noe, the main reason for the Tacoma’s popularity is its high resale value as featured in the respected BlueBook. Although I agree with all of these explanations, they don’t seem to cover such a sales success – more than double any other nameplate in the state – and why specifically the Tacoma and not the Ford F-Series as it is the case nationally.

4. Nissan Sentra Diamond HeadNissan Sentra in Diamond Head, O’ahu Hawaii March 2016

The volcanic geography of the archipelago could explain the choice of a pickup truck as the best-seller here, however according to Servco Toyota only 20% of Tacomas are purchased in their 4WD variant. Rather, one very important element that cannot be discarded is the ethnic composition of the Hawaii population. Hawaii has the highest percentage of Asian Americans and multiracial Americans and the lowest percentage of white Americans of any state in the U.S. It is also the only state where Asian Americans identify as the largest ethnic group at 39% of the population and in 2011, 14.5% of births were to white, non-Hispanic parents. This goes a long way in explaining the presence of 8 Japanese nameplates inside the 2015 Hawaiian Top 10, as well as the domination of Toyota and of the Tacoma, because non-white ethnic groups have been shown to purchase non-American brands at a higher rate. This is also consistent with the location of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, where purchase patterns traditionally and markedly converge towards Toyota and Asian brands in general as the population relates more closely to this part of the world culturally.

5. Toyota Corolla Tacoma WindwardPointing at the Toyota Corolla in Servo Toyota Kanehoe, O’ahu Hawaii – March 2016

This way, instead of opting for the default full-size Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado, Hawaiians go for the (slightly) smaller, more affordable mid-size Toyota Tacoma and, historically, Nissan Frontier even though the latter has dropped from the Top 10 best-sellers in recent years. Last but not least, the long-running leading market share the Tacoma has commended over the past twenty years has progressively shaped it into the default choice for a new vehicle, a typical inertia phenomenon that, in the absence of any notable reliability issues, has only reinforced its stranglehold on the market.

If you live in Hawaii and have additional elements to help explain the Tacoma’s hegemony here, please do share your insights in the comments section of this article.

Every U.S. State available here: USA Full Year 2015: Exclusive State by State rankings now available

Full Year 2015 Top 10 best-selling models vs. Full 2014 figures below.

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