To Pack The Trunk, Honda Ridgeline Owners Gather In Ohio
This past weekend, members of the Ridgeline Owners Club (ROC) gathered at American Honda Motor Co., Inc. facilities in Ohio to talk about their trucks with fellow Honda Ridgeline enthusiasts, and to meet some of the people responsible for engineering and building this unique pickup.
Ridgeline owners haven't had it easy. While the mid-size sport utility truck has won awards for ground-breaking design elements and features, like unitized construction, an independent rear suspension and secure in-bed trunk, traditional truck buyers have laughed off the Ridgeline's strange looks, light payload, towing and off-road capabilities and lack of a V-8 engine.
Not surprisingly, the Ridgeline has remained a niche model among pickups. It's never sold more than about fifty-thousand units in a single year while most of its competition sold tens of thousands more trucks annually. Ridgeline sales only recently started outpacing some traditionally stronger rivals.
Still, as different as the Honda Ridgeline is from conventional pickups, some of its owners share at least one key trait with other truck buyers - a strong passion for their pickups.
Since the Ridgeline went on sale in 2005, Ridgeline owners have congregated online at RidgelineOwnersClub.com where they can share their enthusiasm. The site was started by Honda vehicle enthusiast Tom McAllister. It currently has over 14,000 members.
This year was the third annual get together that Mr. McAllister has organized to celebrate the Ridgeline. It's the first time it's been held on Honda property.
The first day of the two-day event was a tour of Honda's East Liberty, Ohio manufacturing plant, where the Honda Element, CRV and Civic are built.
The second day was dedicated to showing off the Ridgeline's capabilities at Honda's Transportation Research Center (TRC). The TRC is a 4,500 acre proving ground that has a 7.5 mile long high-speed oval track, off-road trails and a variety of other tracks with different road surface types, from cobblestone to ceramic tile.
On hand to demonstrate some of the same tests the Ridgeline was tortured with before it went on sale was the Ridgeline's original project leader and chief engineer, Gary Flint (pictured below). Mr. Flint worked as an engineer at General Motors before he joined Honda. It was Mr. Flint who first proposed to Honda management in 1998 that the company build a pickup.
The tests at TRC included: a rock drop demonstration, where big rocks were rapidly dumped into the back of a Ridgeline several times to show the toughness of the composite bed and sturdiness of its in-bed trunk; a two-wheel ramp test, where the Ridgeline was propped up on one side to show off its torsional rigidity and how well the doors closed while half the truck was resting at an angle; and a ride and handling course, where ROC members were invited to ride shotgun as a Ridgeline was slalomed through a coned course with 1,000 pounds load in its trunk. The Ridgeline was also driven through a deep water trough.
But according to Mr. McAllister, the highlight for most ROC members in attendance at TRC was the split-mu, low friction surface demonstration (pictured below).
Mu (written as µ, pronounced "mew") is a Greek letter used to indicate the coefficient of friction between two surfaces or the ratio of force required to move a truck forward relative to the truck's weight on a given surface. The higher the µ the stickier the surface. Too much µ and your truck isn't going to budge. Too little µ and your truck will spin in place.
With two wheels on dry pavement and two on wet ceramic tile, simulating icy road conditions, a Honda engineer drove a Ridgeline up a steep split-µ grade. The Ridgeline's Variable Torque Management (VTM-4) 4WD system worked like a virtual limited slip differential, using the Ridgeline’s Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) traction control and ABS systems to reduce throttle and brake slipping wheels, while directing power to the partner wheels on the dry surface. The Ridgeline climbed halfway up the slick hill, stopped completely and then climbed the rest of the way with minimal wheel slip and traction loss - forwards and in reverse.
At the end of the weekend, ROC members left Honda more excited about their trucks than when they arrived. Although it wasn't shown to them, an updated 2009 model is just around the corner. They're hoping that like the Ridgeline they saw gaining traction on TRC's slippery hill, the new truck gains traction in the marketplace so more Ridgeline owners join ROC and attend the gathering next year and beyond.