Hondas that partially drive themselves are on Rock Honda’s showroom floors right now.

But how soon will you be able to sit in the back seat while your Honda drives itself?

David Latif, General Manager, of Rock Honda in the Los Angeles suburb of Fontana joins Tom Smith to talk Honda’s tech – what’s out now and what’s on the way!Tom & David pictured as part of iDSC006 Honda Technology Podcast Banner

***Transcript***

Recorded November 18, 2017

The Future of Driving Autonomous Hondas

David Latif: The driver taking the wheel at any moment is right now. Right now, we can put a Honda Pilot on self-driving and it steers itself and the areas and the corners that it won’t be able to control itself, it tells you to hold on to the steering. That technology is right now. In the future, I think you can sit in the back seat.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility in the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. I’m your host, Tom Smith, and today I’m joined by David Latif. David is a long time automotive industry professional.

He’s been the leader behind the massive growth of Rock Honda in the Los Angeles suburb of Fontana. He’s now General Manager of Rock Honda, where I’m speaking with him today. David, thank you so much for not only joining me but for being an iDriveSoCal partner.

David Latif: You’re welcome.  Thank you for having me.

Tom Smith: From the very beginning, how did you get into the automotive business?

David Latif: You know, it’s a long story, I don’t know if I want to really bore you with the whole thing, but I started almost 30 years ago, I was a young guy, one year in college and started selling Mitsubishis and 30 years later I’m sitting here with you.

Tom Smith: Did you finish college?

David Latif: No. One year and I loved cars and people so I kind of stuck with it.

Tom Smith: You’ve been at Rock Honda for quite awhile.

David Latif: I started back in ’95, and that’s 22 years ago. Obviously, a lot has changed in the IE and a lot has changed in the car business.

Regulatory Approval

Tom Smith: iDriveSoCal is all about mobility in Southern California, traffic congestion because we are such a massive hub of importance for all things automotive, not only the United States but the entire world, there’s a lot of innovation out here as well. We hear a lot about self-driving cars, autonomous driving.

From the perspective of a general manager, you’re a very insider of the news out there, what’s hype, what’s real? Tell me that I’m going to be buying a flying Honda car very soon, because that’s really what I want, personally.

David Latif: I think we’re not too far from it. The autonomous car around the corner. As far as I know, they had quite a few of them running up north in New York. But I believe they have to be driven almost a million miles before the DMV approves them to be street legal.

And I think they pass all those tests, so we’re not too far from it. I think we’re going to see in the next few years autonomous cars all around. All makes and models will be on the freeways. Most of the cars that Honda makes now, Honda Pilots, the Accords, the Civic, they all have the semi-self driving, screen control, speed control, and all that stuff.

As I said, we’re not too far from it. The next couple of years we should be seeing full autonomous cars on the streets.

Tom Smith: So I’m going to be able to go to the McDonald’s drive-thru, Big Mac, fries, and…

David Latif: You’ll be in the backseat of the car. Make sure somebody pays for it.

Some Self-Driving Now

Tom Smith: So how do you think the regulations are going to come out? Are we going to… I mean you joke about being in the back seat, are we going to be able to be in the back seat or are we going to need a human ready to take the wheel at any moment?

David Latif: No, you’re going to be in the back seat. The driver taking the wheel at any moment is right now. Right now, we can put a Honda Pilot on self-driving and it steers itself and the areas and the corners that it won’t be able to control itself, it tells you to hold on to the steering. That technology is right now. In the future, I think you can sit in the back seat.

Tom Smith: I can buy that technology in your showroom right now?

David Latif: Absolutely. I think leasing is the way to go with technology and all the safety features and stuff as fast as it’s moving. The best way to drive a car is leasing a car. Not only you’re paying half of what you would pay on a payment on a purchase, but you also have the opportunity to upgrade every two, three years.

Tom Smith: I’m factoring in my wife’s car too. About four years ago, we went from buying to leasing. And I’ll never turn back, because of exactly what you point out, the technology. But before that I wasn’t like on that lease and I got to own it and I got to take care of it and whatever. And I love leasing now, because honestly if it gets a little door ding or whatever, I’m leasing, it’s going to go back, it’s okay.

Technology Advancements & Leasing

David Latif: You know in old days, and my mom was a perfect example of it. She was completely against the lease because you know old school, they think when you lease it’s like renting a car and if you buy it, you own it.

If you really realistically look at it, 90 percent, 99 percent of the people that buy a car within two, three, four years, they change their car. And if you’re buying a car and you tried to get out of it in three years, you know we use the term upside down, that means you owe more money in your car than it’s worth because of the tax and license and most of the interest, you’re going to pay upfront. When you’re leasing a car, that’s not the case.

Not only that you’re not going to pay all the taxes and licensing upfront, but you’re not going to pay the interest also. So that’s one aspect of leasing to me. The other one is obviously you can get a new car every two, three years with these new cars you get not only new features, new safety features, which is the main thing when you have kids and stuff, and I got kids, so that’s very important to me.

You know if you remember cars came only with the front airbag, then the passenger airbag. Now, passenger, side, back, everything has airbags. So who knows what’s going to happen the next three years. If you leased a car today, in three years you’re going to be in a completely different car versus buying it and you’re stuck in it five years, and by the time you own it, there’s nothing left in the car.

Honda’s Current Line-Up

So I think leasing is the way to go and these banks are so aggressive and they’re making it so attractive, as far as payment wise that you can pass on it. You could drive a $25,000 car for $220 a month today. You could never do it on a purchase.

Tom Smith: With regard to Honda, the current lineup, what is the single most exciting piece of technology that’s in their current lineup right now?

David Latif: The semi-self driving, the semi-braking safety features, the sensor, which they call the sensing on the Accords and Civic and stuff where it will tell you how close you are to a curb and everything else. I mean these cars do everything but drive themselves right now.

So like I said we’re not too far away from it just the fact that you see all the signs on these current cars right now. And especially the new Civic hatchback, we can’t make enough of them. We cannot get enough of them. They’re built in the United Kingdom. The hatchback, regular hatchback, or the Type R, which is the newest Honda Civic that made it in the U.S. for the first time, it’s supposed to be the fastest Honda Civic ever built. So we’re excited.

The Honda Accord just came up with a new model some crazy cars we have. So I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it and Honda has always been ahead of all the competition, so I’m excited to see what else is going to come up.

Tom Smith: The Type R is a gorgeous vehicle. I’d love to take one for a little test drive if I might be able to some time.

David Latif: I think for the money, it’s a lot of car.

Honda Green Tech

Tom Smith: What does it compete with, as far as out there?

David Latif: Pricewise, you can’t compete it with anything, there’s no car with all that technology and equipment and performance you get for $34,000. But they’re compared with the BMW M3?

Tom Smith: How is Honda addressing the push to hybrids and electric vehicles? Honda has a fully electric vehicle out now, the Clarity?

David Latif: Yes, they do. Yes. And they just came up with a crazy, crazy lease for it. Zero down, $199 a month. I mean it’s crazy. You could never get a $35,000 car for $199 a month with no money out of your pocket.

Tom Smith: How many miles do you get on them? I mean on the annual.

David Latif: Twenty thousand miles a year.

Tom Smith: Twenty thousand miles a year?

David Latif: Twenty thousand miles a year.

Tom Smith: Zero down, $199 a month, 20,000 miles a year for how many years?

David Latif: Three years. Like I said, it’s unheard of. Honda is making a big push and they’re making their mark on the automotive business.

Tom Smith: As it pertains to hybrids and electrics and the service departments. Electrics are less maintenance intensive?

David Latif: Absolutely. Plus everything is included. When you’re leasing it for three years, 20,000 miles a year, you don’t need to do anything, but charge it and drive it.

Tom Smith: Is there infrastructure issues anymore or is that barrier coming down.

David Latif: There’s an app that you can download on your phone that shows you all the charging stations within 20, 30 miles of you and obviously the dealership will have three or four chargers, superchargers, that will charge your car within 10 minutes.

Car Buying Advice

Tom Smith: How far away are we, or maybe it’ll never get there, to just plug it into a wall socket and…

David Latif: You can do that right now, but it will take a long time to charge.

Tom Smith: You have kids, you have four kids, I believe?

David Latif: Yes. Yes.

Tom Smith: They’re all… None of them are driving age yet, right?

David Latif: No, thank God. The oldest one is 14 and the youngest one is 4.

Tom Smith: Okay, well soon enough that 14-year-old.

David Latif: Oh yes, yes. They’re waiting.

Tom Smith: Okay, so your 14-year-old is now in college and they’re out of state. They need to buy a car. You can’t sell it to them yourself, you can’t give it to them. And you can only instruct them, give them advice and say, “Go get it.” What do you tell them?

David Latif: You know, obviously I always tell them before you buy something, call me. I’ve been with Honda over 25, 26 years. I think the safest car that to me, that he can get, would be a Honda. Maintenance wise, gas wise, insurance wise, and resale value. So 100 percent, I’ll be recommending a Honda to him.

Tom Smith: So lots of Honda dealers here in Southern California.

David Latif: Absolutely.

Tom Smith: Lots and lots of them. What are the top three reasons Rock Honda is the place to buy a Honda vehicle?

David Latif: Well, you know it’s easy obviously for me to sit here and say you know come here and buy it. But one of the main reasons, just the fact that I’ve been here 20 years, and I’m a hands on general manager. I don’t sit behind a desk in an office and stuff.

The Rock Honda Difference

So I’m always on the showroom floor and making sure that experience that they’re getting is an experience that’s going to make them come back to the store. We do whatever we got to do to keep a customer happy.

And that’s the reason we sell anywhere from 550 to 650 cars in Fontana, and that’s a lot of cars in this city. Obviously, the biggest reason is the quality the cars, the brand name, and the service they’re getting.

You can get a Honda or you can get anything anywhere, what people are looking for is a service and it’s somebody that they can trust.

And Rock Honda, I believe, is the place that you can trust and come in and feel like a family member. The people that come in today to buy a car, most of them probably know more about the car they’re buying than we are, as a salesperson selling it to them. So what we provide and what I focus on here is return business.

I mean we sold… there’s a customer that we sold 43 cars to. Forty-three cars too.

Tom Smith: An individual, not a business?

David Latif: Not a business, an individual that bought for their kids, for their grandkids. And I have seen these kids come in here four, five, six years old and now they’re in their 20s and buying a car. And that is the goal and that’s what I’m trying to make all my employees see that holding onto these people, it’s a lifetime. It’s not a one-time sale, it’s not there we go, we sold them a car and goodbye. We hold onto them, we build a relationship and we’re looking to do close to 700-800 cars next year.

Dealing with SoCal Traffic

Tom Smith: iDriveSoCal is all about mobility in Southern California. And mobility in Southern California is about commutes, we all have commutes. Tell me about yours. How much time does it take you to get to work?

David Latif: Oh boy, talk about a commute. You know I live in South Orange County the last 20 years and I’ve been commuting here for the last 20 years.

You know it’s everybody says LA traffic is crazy and stuff, sure is. But you know us living in the state for so long, it’s just part of the lifestyle, you know, you get used to it. In the old days when I was a little younger, I used to fight the traffic and try to beat everybody and be the first car on the freeway.

But now I know, I learned I just put some music and stuff get in line and get home safely. So it’s nothing, but just give you some time for yourself, that’s how I look at it.

Tom Smith: That wraps up this installment of iDriveSoCal. Thanks again to my guest, Mr. David Latif of Rock Honda, for joining me today and for being an iDriveSoCal sponsor. Rock Honda is on South Highland Avenue in Fontana at RockHonda.com. Don’t forget to follow them on Facebook. I’m Tom Smith. Until next time. Thank you so much.