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DoMiNo 09-02-2011 05:40 PM

Turning Point: Is Honda's Reputation in Long-term Danger?
I think it's obvious to even the casual observer that Honda is in a serious slump at the moment. Aside from its woes resulting from the tragic Japan earthquake early this year, its new products have utterly failed to impress critics and its sales in the US market (from which Honda derives much of its revenue) have begun to slip accordingly. The latest in a series of damning reviews comes from Consumer Reports, which--in spite of the general sentiment on this forum (my own included)--remains an influential publication for car buyers. CR yanked its recommended rating for the Civic (a long-time CR favorite), citing among other things its ride, noise, fit and finish, and "miserable absence of character." Their panning of the Civic comes after mediocre ratings for the Insight (which managed something like 1/3 its projected first-year sales in America), the CR-Z, the new Pilot, and the new Odyssey. CR saw this problem as so endemic that they went so far as to put out a piece criticizing Honda as a company for losing sight of its core values and totally neglecting design. I mean when Consumer Reports of all people calls out your cars for being soulless appliances, something is definitely wrong. And the sales don't lie. Even the perennially best-selling Civic is slipping; in 2011 the Cruze has outsold it overall and the Focus and Elantra have been nipping at its heels. That is a CRISIS for an automaker that built its reputation and much of its empire on that model. Honda as a whole declined almost 25% in August 2011 relative to the year before. How much of that is earthquake-related and how much is due to the fact that consumers are finally realizing that Honda may be coasting is hard to say. But factor into the analysis of Honda's problems the fact that Acura is a flailing, unfocused, beak-nosed mess and it all adds up to a pretty messy situation for them. How could an automaker once so "relentlessly innovative" fall so hard on its face? Who is making these stylistic decisions? The Japanese were always the quickest to learn from Detroit's mistakes, yet now they appear to be repeating them.

And to make matters even worse, Honda's new US marketing chief responded to CR's criticism in just about the most oblivious way possible, shrugging off recent criticism as that which an A student might get for bringing home B+ work, while saying that other automakers are being lauded like C students who finally brought home a B-. That, to me, is tacky and horrifically arrogant. Your products should shine in their own right, regardless of how bad competitors' products may have been historically. The point is, now the Koreans and the Americans are producing legitimate (indeed, class-leading) small car challengers, while Honda rests on its laurels. Then--and this is the kicker--he admits that "every time you step up to the plate youíre not going to hit them out of the park." Way to go, new marketing guy, just throw up your hands in defeat and admit that yeah, you're gonna make some cars that just suck. If I were the head of Honda NA I'd fire his ass on the spot.

This all begs another question: is this just Honda's problem, or are other Japanese automakers falling into the same malaise? After all, Toyota has yet to fully recover from its recall fiasco last year, and new numbers show its US sales continuing to fall as well. Indeed, 7 of 10 brands that lost ground in August were Japanese brands. Nissan and Mazda made the only gains. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Kia are catching up fast, and looking at their products relative to their, say, Honda counterparts, it's really no wonder why. Earlier this summer, in June, the Chevrolet Cruze even briefly dethroned the Camry (!!!) as the best-selling car in the U.S. Who'd have predicted that, three years ago? With tepid reception of the new Camry, and forthcoming salvos from GM (Malibu) and Ford (new Fusion) coupled with strong new competitors from Hyundai/Kia, how long can Toyota keep that top spot? What will the Japanese have to do to regroup and refocus?

swizzle 09-03-2011 03:42 PM

The Japanese industry is where the American automakers were in the 1970's. They "own" the market and think they always will.

Toyota is clearly coasting with the all-new-old Camry. They should have stormed the segment with an all-hybrid Camry line up with stunning MPG. The Sienna should also be all hybrid. Toyota hasn't done an "all new" vehicle in a while for its mainstream. The Scion FRS is a 2-3 year old car that hasn't even reached dealers yet.

Honda is doing its best to be the Japanese AMC by producing stunningly ugly vehicles with horrid quality. The Insight screams cheap. The Civic likewise. BMW should buy Honda. Honda's bones are still good, but it's management needs to be FIRED. A BMW/Honda tie up would be win/win for both companies. BMW could turn Honda around rather smartly. Moreover, BMW will need lighter and more fuel efficient CUVs as the MPG numbers climb and adding Honda to their stable of brands would instantly increase their CAFE.

Nissan hasn't produced a credible class leader in decades. If the Versa is a sign of where they're headed, we're in for another round of truly UGLY Nissans. The spy shots of the next Altima look like it's just a mild reworking of the current one which was just a mild reworking of the previous one.

Mazda is a mess. The Mazda6 failed to gain traction in the CamCord world. The Mazda3 may be a great drive, but the Focus/Elantra/Corolla/Civic/Jetta are where the action is. The Miata is as old and outmoded as sin.

Mitsubishi is so adrift that they are killing the EVO and the Eclipse. STUPID.

If VW moves quickly in NA with the UP and quickly does some cute variations of it, they are poised to be the "go to" maker of small cars.

With Chevy bringing the Sonic which so far seems to have a favorable vibe to it and then the Spark after it, the movement in the market AGAIN appears to be at the expense of the Japanese.

The Chinese no doubt see this and recognize their opportunity. Like the Japanese in the 70s, the Chinese will NOT have to deliver better cars initially to take the market.

How ironic would it be for the Big Three to be even stronger in 10 years and the Japanese to be on the ropes? Very easily could happen.

Naga Royal Guard 09-05-2011 05:48 PM

It is very ironic that at a time when value and economy have again become the industry focus: honda comes up almost empty handed. They were so very sure of the last 2 hybrid offerings; to a most disappointing effect - they only seem to be popular in Orlando.

Maybe honda should refocus their marketing on actual advertisements and pull the plug on car and driver - I have wanted to see that magazine finished for years.

And when hyundai is finished pasting every good idea and attractive design cue to one model then resizing it ... what will become of them?

DoMiNo 09-05-2011 06:47 PM


Originally Posted by Naga Royal Guard (Post 424443)
Maybe honda should refocus their marketing on actual advertisements and pull the plug on car and driver - I have wanted to see that magazine finished for years.

Interestingly, even Car & Driver panned Honda's complacency ("Honda used to advance technology through novel solutions, not stand idly by as others push the engineering envelope") in its comparison test with the Focus. And in its standalone review, C&D said of the Civic:

"Honda hasnít hedged its bets into the boring realm of the Toyota Corolla, but itís certainly an unadventurous effort. Aside from being quieter and more efficient, the new Civic doesnít represent improvement as we define it. The Civic lacks the passion, soul, and entertaining driving dynamics of its predecessor. Mainstream buyers may not care, but enthusiasts surely will."

boston 09-05-2011 09:07 PM

I recall the CVCC Civics coming out and reading about the technology with amazement. They just seemed to know how to get ahead of the curve and make it work.

However, in the last 15 or so years, the brand has gone off the road. Hondanistas wail in pain as the sales figures come out. They scream about the awful Crosstour, ZDX, RL, TL, and to a lesser extent the Pilot and others. The Ody redo has flopped. The Civic scares them based on what they have read (whose seen one?).

Honda grew up on Engineering but has been put down by poor design, combined with cheap and nasty materials. Acura started well, but you know, I think its holding Honda back.

Honda has not only got too many models, its got too many BAD models. Just check out the threads here: You can read pretty much the same pain every month.

There is alot of GM like issues with Honda today.

Which leads me to ask:

What would Bob Lutz do?

DoMiNo 09-06-2011 01:47 AM


Originally Posted by boston (Post 424451)
The Civic scares them based on what they have read (whose seen one?).

I've seen a couple, but it takes a keen eye to spot them. It's Corolla bland.


Originally Posted by boston (Post 424451)
Acura started well, but you know, I think its holding Honda back.

Acura was perfectly fine until the beak showed up. The RSX, the original MDX, the pre-facelift RDX, the previous-gen TSX and above all the previous-gen TL were attractive cars and damn good ones, too. Why it has taken so much time in the face of SUCH OBVIOUS criticism for Honda to realize that this design language was a complete and utter failure is absolutely beyond me. What's more, in the absence of the NSX (and with no new halo car on the horizon), the brand has been without anything so much as resembling a flagship. The RL was WAY too conservative from day one, from its styling to its powertrain. And it has NEVER been remedied, the only real "improvements" coming in the form of its atrocious new beak face. Acura remains a brand with potential if Honda can take it back to what made it so compelling as an entry-luxury brand to begin with, but that window is rapidly closing. As an Acura owner I can honestly say that, if I were in the market for a new car today, Acura would be at the very, very bottom of my list.


Originally Posted by boston (Post 424451)
What would Bob Lutz do?

He'd build an NSX, and he wouldn't take a decade to do it.

Naga Royal Guard 09-06-2011 02:31 AM

And a decade worth of boasting, insults, un-insightful forecasts and blogging behind it.

RE: Car and Driver - The review itself seems at least defensive of honda's direction with the civic, excluding the UK-sourced Si - the Civic hasnt been "enthusiast" driven for several generations now. That said, I cringe when I see an EG or EK on the road.

DoMiNo 09-06-2011 02:42 AM


Originally Posted by Naga Royal Guard (Post 424469)
That said, I cringe when I see an EG or EK on the road.

Is it the faux-HID headlamps? The 12 VTEC stickers? The obnoxious spoiler? The coffee-can exhaust? The carbon fiber hood? The Krylon-black wheels?

swizzle 09-06-2011 03:09 AM


Originally Posted by Naga Royal Guard (Post 424443)
And when hyundai is finished pasting every good idea and attractive design cue to one model then resizing it ... what will become of them?

It will do another generation and up the game because it wants what Toyota currently has. Similarly, Kia is poised to be what Honda used to be: stylish and sporty with good technology


Originally Posted by boston (Post 424451)
...Acura started well, but you know, I think its holding Honda back...What would Bob Lutz do?

Cut out the crap and build something. Acura needs to go RWD and FAST. Honda needs a 40mpg hybrid base Accord to up the game. Why NOT take a mainstream line like the Civic to a plug-in hybrid? If the Honda of 25 year ago were alive today, the current Civic would have been a plug-in hybrid. Honda always used to be well AHEAD of the pack.

I still think BMW should gobble up Honda. One thing for certain is that BMW knows engineering as well as coherent Honda USED to. Honda as mainstream / Acura and targeted near premium / BMW premium would be a sweet little conglomerate.

DoMiNo 09-06-2011 03:12 AM

Gobble up? Honda is a much larger company.

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