LOS ANGELES -- To the untrained eye, the Honda Element and the Toyota Scion xA and xB are pretty much the same: small, cramped boxes on wheels.
But Generation Y can tell the difference, big time.
I've had an opportunity to drive all the vehicles in Los Angeles at the time they were launched. If there is one place that would be hip to a new automotive trend, it would be L.A. Amazingly, the response from the street to the Element and the Scions couldn't have been more different.
When I had an Element in early December, several drivers pulled alongside to ask questions. But none of my inquisitors was younger than I. One thirtysomething fellow asked me whether it was Honda's new electric car. My niece Caitlin, the epitome of 16-year-old Seattle cool, who was in town for Christmas, dismissed the car as a "pimpmobile" and said she "wouldn't be caught dead in it." Hardly a ringing endorsement.
Thinking I had a bad test sample, I drove the Element again in May and had no better luck. I was basically invisible. I put the car in parking lots near young people's hangouts and cruised the campus at Cal State Long Beach to see whether anyone checked it out. No love.
But Honda dealers can't keep the Element on their lots. Then again, what a sales pitch: It's the same size as a CR-V, with a better package and it costs two grand less. Who can resist that? Certainly not the scads of soccer moms and retirees I've seen driving Elements.