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Hawaii 2016 Photo: The cars of O’ahu

2 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.

Nissan 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.

Toyota 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.

Toyota 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.

Toyota 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.

Ford 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.

Ford 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.

Toyota 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.

Ford 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.

Toyota 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

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.

The 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, a $10 administrative fee, 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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