Honda’s Showing Some Fighting Spirit

Christie Schweinsberg Blogger, Senior Editor

September 8, 2014

2 Min Read
Honda’s Showing Some Fighting Spirit

One of the interesting tidbits of news that came out of last month’s Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI, was Honda’s announcement it soon will install new tooling for the next-generation Civic at its Alliston, ON, Canada, and Greensburg, IN, plants.

WardsAuto data confirmed that indeed a new Civic is right around the corner, due in fall 2015 for ’16.

“How odd, but finally Honda’s showing some fighting spirit!” were my first thoughts about the news of a new Civic, a mere four years after the current generation was released.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when Honda became a force in the U.S. auto industry, it had aggressive product lifecycles, with four years between generations of the Civic, routinely the best-selling compact car in the U.S.

But in the past 10 years Honda has lengthened its lifecycles. There was a nearly 6-year gap between the last two Civic generations; the current Honda Pilot CUV has been on the market for 6 years and counting.

In the meantime, Korean brands Hyundai and Kia have been relentless in their product-replacement schedules, with redesigned models arriving at dealerships every four or five years on the dot, and in some cases earlier. For instance, there only were 3½ years between the launch of the current Kia Forte in early 2013 and the prior generation in summer 2009.

That’s because Kia realized the old Forte wasn’t working. And it’s so refreshing for Honda to be admitting the same thing with the earlier-than-expected Civic redesign. Honda often tells critics they’re wrong for thinking a vehicle isn’t marvelous, because after all it’s a Honda!

But the current-generation Civic, released in ’12, was far from marvelous.

Many of us were left scratching our heads over the car’s subpar interior materials and design; others didn’t like the ride-and-handling.

So Honda, in another what-automaker-is-this-again move, notoriously did a major refresh of the car for ’13.

That righted some wrongs but it isn’t easy, or cheap, to make significant changes to a vehicle during its lifecycle. Honda did upgrade the Civic’s materials, adding new seat fabric and door-panel trims. But more major physical changes, such as fixing the awkwardly sized air vents and center-stack layout, would have to wait until a full redesign.

Nothing motivates buyers like new product. Honda learned this during the 2011 fallout from the Japan earthquake and tsunami, when its production was hampered and rival Hyundai, with no such roadblock, launched key new models, including the ’11 Sonata midsize sedan and ’12 Elantra compact car, to rousing success.

“Unfortunately, our competitors didn’t show us any mercy,” then-Honda North America President Tetsuo Iwamura told Bloomberg in December 2011. “They took as much market share from us as they could. That’s the reality of the market. You have to fight back.”

It’s great to see those words being put into action.

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