What's Wrong at Honda? Maybe Everything

By Bill Visnic May 26, 2010

It's unusual for Honda Motor Co. Ltd. to deviate from its rigid model-replacement schedule, 2010 Honda Civic Si Coupe - front on shot - 270.JPGparticularly for its bread-and-butter volume models such as the Civic. But that's just what the company is doing with the planned Civic replacement, pushing back the car's introduction from this fall until sometime next year.

The next-generation Civic apparently was not on competitive target -- and Honda sent it back to the garage for tinkering. Although some analysts and industry insiders think Honda's choice to rejigger the Civic is a positive signal, the fact the Civic has to go back to the drawing board at such a late stage speaks plenty about how far Honda has drifted from its once-indomitable methods.

Honda, which always used to be so good at having its finger on the pulse of the buying public, seemingly has exhausted its famed product-development mojo. Yes, the cars -- including the now almost five-year-old Civic -- still sell. The company reversed losses from the global industry downturn and for the fiscal year that ended in March recorded a $2.9-billion profit, a 96 percent surge. Honda maintains a top-drawer quality reputation. Yet analysts, industry watchers and even Honda loyalists continue to murmur the company is losing its legendary edge for forward-looking engineering and an uncanny ability to apply that engineering in a way that delights customers.

John Wolkonowicz, manager of special projects for the IHS Global Insight North American auto forecasting group, said the reputation Honda earned in the 1980s and 1990s has allowed the company to hover above recent reality in the eyes of the car-buying public. "The Honda name is still the gold standard in the industry," Wolkonowicz told AutoObserver. "But the fact is, they really seem to have lost it."

Edmunds.com analyst Ivan Dury says Honda so far has averted a precipitous sales slide. Still, consumer shopping consideration for Honda has been down in the first quarter this year at a time when one would expect it to be up in light of rival Toyota's troubles. "Honda's situation has the ingredients for a potentially tragic sales slide. If Honda keeps piling on incentives and sales remain flat or slip, we'll have another story on our hands."
Honda Consideration.JPG

Source: Edmunds.com

Civic Delay: Hitting Corporate Reset Button
The company delayed the Civic because whatever it had planned for the past four years now isn't right. Understanding of the company's off-message product-development apparently has reached the top chair. President Takanobu Ito seemed to confirm at last month's Beijing auto show that he's aware Honda has lost a step or three, suggesting the company's engineering and marketing may have become "complacent," and adding his displeasure over the company's loss of U.S. market share in the first quarter this year.

The Civic engineering team may have been scared straight by a rash of new-model miscues that have left its development acumen in question. For one, it had planned the now-delayed Civic to be larger, but many critics contend that's one of Honda's prime problems: the company has been subsituting size for innovation -- the latest-generation Accord being the chief example. More directly, another engorged Civic probably wouldn't compare favorably with the 40-mile-per-gallon highway fuel-economy numbers of new models entering the market, including Ford Motor Co.'s 2011 Fiesta and General Motors Co.'s 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. The best a conventionally powered current-generation Civic can manage is 36 mpg on the highway (the slow-selling Civic Hybrid whirrs out 45-mpg highway rating).

But the reasons Honda delayed the Civic run deeper than just proportions or fuel economy. "The story here is the new products are not up to par," notes Edmunds.com's Drury. "The redesign of the Civic -- one of Honda's three core products along with the Accord and CR-V -- could spell disaster if they get it wrong." Drury notes Honda's trio of core models makes up more than two-thirds of the brand's sales volume. "I think they looked at the competition the next-generation Civic will face and realized they weren't top of the heap on several fronts," said Wolkonowicz. He thinks almost all of Honda's recently launched models -- including those of its Acura premium-car division -- have not been up to the standards of the past, by either engineering or styling measures.

Nonetheless, the Civic delay represents "very positive news for Honda," Wolkonowicz said, adding that the company stopping the Civic program in its tracks seems to be a signal Honda is acknowledging its corporate drift. "This is the most encouraging news of all," he continued, saying the delay of the Civic is an all-too-rare admission from Honda that the next Civic "isn't perfect, like they [perceive] everything they've done before. I don't think they would have done this five years ago."

But, he cautioned of the Civic delay: "I hope it's a more effective use of a year than Toyota got with the Corolla," when it delayed the U.S. launch of the current-generation Corolla from 2007 until 2008. Toyota said the delay was due to scarce engineering resources and to insure quality, but speculation proposed the launch was postponed to tweak bland styling and other competitive attributes.

Backsliding While Competition Is Gaining
Honda's top-of-the-heap standing for compact cars and midsize family sedans has been assailed on several fronts, most notably from the surging Hyundai/Kia conglomerate -- but also from a revitalized Ford and General Motors Co. But Honda's worst enemy recently seems to have been itself. Wolkonowicz and other industry analysts point to many of the vehicles Honda and Acura currently have on the road as evidence of the company's foundering ways. Wolkonowicz said Honda's product-development backsliding has led to a "string of losers" after Honda spent years developing what many believed were cars with the best engineering-per-dollar value in the entire industry. Another analyst said many recently launched Hondas are "sloppily designed, not very good to drive and even worse to look at."

All of those shots could apply to the Insight hybrid-electric vehicle, a car designed to  2010 Honda Insight vs 2010 Toyota Prius - 275.JPGshowcase Honda's technical ability -- and prospectively go head-to-head with Toyota's dominating Prius hybrid. But the company's still licking its wounds from the dismal response to the year-old Insight, which came to market with dumpy styling, unexceptional fuel economy and a thorough cheapness in appointments and driving feel.

Customers seem to agree: the Insight found just 6,853 buyers in the first four months of this year, a sales pace that is a fraction of what Honda projected. "It's really not a very good car," IHS Global Insight's Wolkonowicz declared. 

Honda Insight vs. Toyota PriusHonda Insight versus Toyota Prius.JPG

Source: Edmunds.com

2011 Honda CR-Z Honda mojo.jpgThere is little reason to believe the Honda CR-Z hybrid coupe (left) derived from the Insight, going on sale in the U.S. this fall, will be any better; European enthusiast-magazine reviews have been politely noncommittal but cannot completely avoid giving the impression the CR-Z, if at least more engagingly styled than the Insight, also is a dud to drive. Edmunds.com's Inside Line drove a Japan-specification CR-Z earlier this year and found it engaging at some level but concluded the car utlimately is not the warm-performance coupe Honda suggested it would be -- nor does it live up to the role of sharp-handling CRX successor enthusiasts had projected for it.

Acura Struggles
The waning performance of the Acura upscale division is the topic of almost constant industry speculation, as Acura seems to further alienate its devoted buyers and produce few new ones, searching for a positioning strategy for its front-wheel-drive based luxury cars and crossovers. The brand abandoned its popular (and volume-selling) coupe, its flagship sells in the low hundreds of units monthly and critics insist each new generation of Acura is inferior to the model it replaces. Edmunds.com's Drury points out that Acura is in the same situation as Honda, relying largely on a few vehicles for the bulk of its volume. The MDX, TL and TSX account for 87 percent of Acura sales. Sales of its other models -- RL, ZDX and RDX -- are "lukewarm."

Styling Miscues
Honda also has pulled the trigger on a string of stylistic dogs. The original Pilot crossover was bland but fit with the times, but the second-generation Pilot, launched in 2008, looked tired and passe before the first one was sold. AutoObserver's comment at the time gives perspective to Honda's decision to delay the new Civic: "Launching the new Pilot exposes one of the Japan Inc.'s only flaws: reluctance to backtrack once a course has been set. Maybe after gauging the early reaction, if somebody with power had been able to say, 'This stinks, and we need to try again -- even if it means delaying our precious launch timetable,' the Pilot might have been redeemed."

The styling of the Accord Crosstour has endured near-universal disdain, the aging Ridgeline and Element have never been considered anything other than ugly ducklings and just about every vehicle in Acura's lineup is fanatically unattractive.

Honda Accord Crosstour vs. Toyota VenzaHonda Accord Crosstour versus Toyota Venz.JPG

Source: Edmunds.com

It's the Engineering, Stupid
But styling is subjective -- and in the case of many esteemed brands, vehicles sell well despite weak or even off-putting styling. Honda's real problem seems to come from the last place anyone -- including those within the company -- would expect: unconfident engineering. For some time, Honda hasn't delivered much of the kind of innovation that once was baked into every new generation of vehicle it launched. Even the hardest of hard-core Honda fanboys admit it: from decisions like discarding double-wishbone front suspension for the Civic to wedging a V6 under the hood of the already too-fat new Acura TSX, Honda's answers of late seem to be little more than me-too solutions.

Honda was the first automaker to introduce a hybrid-electric electric vehicle in the U.S. -- but quickly gave away its leadership to Toyota. How? By sticking with the "mild" hybrid strategy of its Integrated Motor Assist technology, effectively backing the wrong engineering horse. Honda gambled the less-complex and less-expensive mild-hybrid approach -- inserted into existing models -- was the way to go with hybrids. With the Prius and its more-efficient full-hybrid engineering and a dedicated hybrid styling, Toyota blew past Honda and has never looked back.

And what of Honda's unparalleled reputation for engine advances? The company has assiduously avoided the direct-injection fueling that's fast becoming a standard for other makers. Honda backed away from a plan to make diesel engines one of Acura's technical calling cards. While rival automakers are turning to high technology to generate more power from smaller engines -- once a Honda forte -- Honda's march has been to simply make its engines larger (insiders already are saying one change to come from the Civic's delay will be the move to a high-tech "downsized" engine). Other makers have bypassed Honda even in its area of perpetual engine leadership: advanced valvetrain designs.

Honda had long been able to claim being the U.S. market's fuel-economy leader. Hyundai stole away that badge last year. The same week it acknowledged the plan to reengineer the Civic, Honda also confirmed a second delay in the production timeline for its high-profile HondaJet corporate jet. HondaJet production now is scheduled for mid 2012, two years later than originally promised.

"It's not going to be so easy for Honda anymore," to maintain its engineering reputation, Wolkonowicz said. "Honda had a kind of superiority complex for many years. It became part of the internal culture. They need to do some soul-searching." -- Bill Visnic, Senior Editor

Photos by Honda

1 - The current Honda Civic will stick around for awhile.

2 - The Honda Insight hasn't made a dent in Toyota Prius sales. (photo by Edmunds.com)

3 - The Honda CR-Z hybrid is based on the Civic.


 

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1487 says: 5:50 AM, 05.26.10

About time something like this was added. Honda has been treading water for a while and its recent products have been average. The article should've mentioned how the competition has totally surpassed Honda in transmissions. GM and Ford are almost totally using 6 speeds now while Acura models (except ZDX and MDX) still have five speeds. The Cruze will have a 6 speed auto but a $44k TL has a 5 speed automatic. Meanwhile German automakers are using 7 and 8 speed automatics in their luxury vehicles. Honda has also not embraced turbocharging (same with Toyota) even though its widely used by GM, Ford, BMW and VW. They are WAY behind in powertrain technology and that is only compounded by the lame styling and mediocre interiors. In the 90s almost any given Honda interior was superior to its domestic counterpart. That advantage has totally evaporated as anyone can see by sitting in a CR-V and Equinox or comparing the Accord to the Fusion or Malibu. Honda offers no advantages over the competition except brand image. If you look at their TV ads you will notice they all focus on brand image and resale value. Nothing about the design, features or engineering of the vehicles. As with Toyota, Honda's plan is to combine average products with a stellar reputation and above average pricing to generate profits. They really have no desire to benchmark and surpass the segment leaders in the industry.

guy1974 says: 8:10 AM, 05.26.10

I agree this is an interesting article. Honda should have made hay with the cash for clunkers program last year and with Toyota's ongoing problems this year. That they have been unable to capatalise on those as well as Chrysler shedding 3-4% of the market shows there is something seriously wrong.

Honda may now improve, as demonstrated by the Civic delay. But Ford, GM, VW, Hyundai/Kia have all improved as well.

Honda does not do very well in Europe (same for Toyota) so it is not a given that they will continue to do well in the USA.

1487 says: 8:57 AM, 05.26.10

The crazy thing is HOnda products offer less and cost more. That is why they are going to have a tough time with Hyundai. When people regarded Hyundais as low quality a Honda's price premium made sense. Now anyone who compares a Honda to a Hyundai has to wonder why the Honda costs thousands more. A loaded Sonata is about $27k and it offers numerous features not found on an Accord EX-L which costs about $29k with nav. On top of that the Hyundai looks better, gets better mileage, has a better tranny and more hp and torque.

repoman14 says: 9:27 AM, 05.26.10

I had a 1999 Accord for the last 8 years and when I drove it I always said my next car would be another Accord. I loved the car, it was reliable, comfortable, and somewhat fun to drive. Then when the transmission went I test drove the new Accord despite my feelings that it was ugly. While it handled nicely and was refined I couldn't get over how clumsy it looked. The outside looks bland and the interior dash is one of the worst I have ever seen. That futuristic dash works in the Civic but looks crazy in the accord. The 2011 Sonata has everything the Accord has (and more) and gets better gas mileage and looks awesome inside and out. The new Acuras look ridiculous and they again use the horrible interior dashboard design as the accord.

utfreshies says: 10:39 AM, 05.26.10

Has Honda lost its way? Yes, very much so for the reasons delineated here.

However, Honda is not the only one. I would say that most every automaker is lost in the wilds. Toyota lost sight of its quality in pursuit of market share. GM went bankrupt. Chrysler's product plan remains a mystery. BMW is pursuing bloated "joy" instead of a peerless driving experience. Mini's next new model is...an obese crossover. Mercedes hasn't fully recovered from its debacle with Chrysler nor regained its former glory in quality or reliability. Porsche makes more money from SUVs and sedans than sports cars. Subarus were the anti-SUVs; now most are as obese as SUVs. VW remains a niche player here despite significant effort.

The few car makers that seem to "get it" are Ford and Hyundai. The rest seems to be relying on former glory or completely out-of-touch.

1487 says: 10:56 AM, 05.26.10

ut:

You are confusing ad strategies and financial health with vehicles offered to the public. GM went bankrupt because of years of bad decisions and overwhelming debt. Their products are better than ever though. Ford's products are also very strong. BMW has not lost its way simply because they have changed their slogan. Their brand strength is in tact and unlike Honda they continue to innovate and debut new technologies. Chrysler may be lost but Chrysler never had the type of reputation that Honda had so they have plenty of room to improve. If Chrysler does anything positive over the next couple of years they will impress many folks who thought they were on the verge of disappearing a year ago. Ford and Hyundai are gaining share and GM's four remaining brands are gaining share. Honda is losing share. That tells you what you need to know about who is lost right now.

clarkma5 says: 11:25 AM, 05.26.10

This sounds really spot on to me (in fact I've been saying it for years), except for a few points about the Acuras...I think the TL looks great, the MDX is pretty sharp, and the TSX V6 sounds like a marked improvement over the standard model (albeit about 5 years too late...they finally put a V6 in it when people gave up on clamoring for more grunt in the TSX). I think it's also fair to say that the TL Type-S offers impressive performance for prices that undercut the 335i and S4. But anyway, I digress...

This sounds to me like it's really part of the natural evolution of a company. You can't stay at the peak for forever, few companies do; it takes a different culture to start a company than it does to grow a company than it does to maintain a company, and I think Honda (like Toyota, as well as others) has the wrong culture in place for its current needs. A re-devotion to the engineering and R&D faculties within the company will be a big step forward for them, and I think they'll figure it out and make it right, though of course, time will tell...

utfreshies says: 12:34 PM, 05.26.10

1487:

I don't think I'm that off the mark. GM went bankrupt BECAUSE they were producing cars that no one wanted (or at least no one would pay enough for the company to make money off them). That to me means they lost their way. Even look at their line up now. While GM's vehicles may be "better than ever," they are far from the top of the class, with the exception of their HD trucks.

Look at BMW. They've changed more than their tagline. They've lost their laser-focus on having the best driving lineup of vehicles available. Look at their offerings. Each new offering seems to be fatter, larger, and less driver-focused than the previous. Would the BMW of old produce such monstrosities as the 5GT? X5M? X6? Would they have hyped-up such an option as Active Steering to introduce another layer of CPUs between the driver & the wheels? Initial reviews of the new 5er have almost universally panned the electric steering as lifeless. Would that have happened before? Why bother saving 2% fuel economy with EPS and leave the car as overweight as it is?

Bottom line is that I think there are quite a few companies that have joined Honda in the wilderness. With the length of product cycles, it may take some time for those in the wild to realize how far they've fallen.

jmess says: 12:58 PM, 05.26.10

I have purchased 10 new Hondas since 84. I agree that compared to the 80s and 90s Honda seems to have lost their engineering mojo. There isn't anything Honda sells today that I am interested in from a styling or engineering standpoint. I am definitely not a fan of the Acura beaks.

alman08 says: 4:39 PM, 05.26.10

a good friend of mine who's a top notch Honda mechanic has said to me that "Honda has lost it" and it's about 8 years ago when he first told me that.

hondaex1 says: 5:08 PM, 05.26.10

I believe Honda is not taking no chances on new technologies. It's that old saying let the competition invest the money and time engineering and two years later we will copy it but make it better. Remember GM 8-6-4 engine and all its problems Cadillac had in 1981, And now Honda has VCM engine that drop cylinders 6-4-3. Mitisubishi Invented silent shaft 4 cylinder engine to stop engine vibration and a year or two later Honda came up with silent shaft design close to Mitsubshi but the Honda engine was better.

skyline68 says: 9:34 PM, 05.26.10

NSX dead, S2000 dead, Integra/RSX dead, Prelude dead... Need I say more?

cz_75 says: 11:33 PM, 05.26.10

I bought my first Honda product in 1990 and have owned one ever since, with the current being a 2007 Civic Si sedan. Unless something changes, I will be looking elsewhere when I get rid of my car, which will likely be 3-5 years away. That said, my Si is the best of all the Hondas I've owned, which is ironic as Honda seems to have all but discontinued their sporty models and shifted to making bloated and ugly vehicles.

1487 says: 6:26 AM, 05.27.10

ut:

You are apparently a delusional Honda fanboy. YOu say GM went bankrupt becuase "no one" wanted their vehicles. GM was #1 before going bankrupt and is still #1 now with four brands. Their remaining four brands have almost double the marketshare of Honda. GM's share is down from historic levels but they still sell more vehicles in the US than Honda by a huge margin. Again, you are talking about the past. GM went bankrupt and that's overwith now. If you look at CURRENT products GM, Ford and even Hyundai have stronger lineups than Honda. That applies when talking about styling, fuel economy, features, technology, etc. Within 3-4 years Hyundai has surpassed Honda in terms of engineering and styling and that is significant.

You say there are quite a few companies in the wilderness but you haven't offered any proof. Reviews of GM and ford products are very strong right now and everyone in automotive press recognizes their progress. Same with Hyundai. BMWs are regarded in the same way they always have been in spite of models like the X6 and 5 GT. Honda is treading water at best.

utfreshies says: 11:14 AM, 05.27.10

1487:

As useless as it is to argue on the internet, I'll try one last time...

1) My 1st statement is that Honda HAS lost it's way. Not sure why that makes me a Honda fanboy.

2) GM products are better, i.e., they are no longer embarrassingly bad anymore. Some are actually competitive. But as a whole, they still have a ways to go, and I think few would consider their lineup "very strong." Don't take my word, look at comparative reviews...

Car & Driver, for instance. 2009 Traverse was 5th of 6 crossovers. Malibu Hybrid was last of 4 hybrids. Malibu itself was 3rd of 8 family sedans--one of GMs most competitive cars still couldn't win the comparo. And remember GM still sells the Impala, which is hideous. The niche Camaro repeatedly gets shown the door by the Mustang, which is now even better.

How about Consumer Reports? Malibu 14th out of 39 family sedans. GM had 5 of the worst 10 family sedans, the worst small car (Cobalt), and the 2nd worst subcompact (Aveo).

Has GM gotten better? Yes. Are they where they need to be? No. Are they still lost--I'd say so. The car with the most hype for them now is the Volt, which is too complex for it to be a money maker for them for at least a few generations. What will tie them over in the meantime? Does anyone know GMs core brand values?

3) As for BMW. Look at their US sales trends versus competitors. Audi was down 6% in sales in 2009 and is up 34% YTD for 2010. Mercedes down 15% in 2009, up 25% YTD 2010. BMW? They lost the most in 2009 of the three--down 21%. And up the least for YTD 2010, just 9% In fact, Audi may pass them in total worldwide sales this year. And that's with quite a few new BMW models introduced throughout that time period.

tomcatt630 says: 11:36 AM, 05.27.10

Honda catered too much to aging Baby Boomers, who wanted bigger Accords as they got older and fatter. Now, the Accord is just a modern Olds Delta 88, drives floaty and looks frumpy.

The current Civic Si is now just another trim level, nothing special, and most sold are 4 doors, yawn.

Honda claims to be 'so fuel efficient', yet is pushing big gas hogs like Crosstour, Pilot, and Ridgeline. And the horrid looking Element is still causing nausea.

Shows that being on top causes complacency, no matter what the nationality!

tomcatt630 says: 12:08 PM, 05.27.10

Honda has catered to aging Baby Boomers, bringing out bigger Accords as they get older and fatter. The current one, classed a large car, is a modern Olds Delta 88, with floaty ride and frumpy style.

Civic will now be a follower, rather than a leader. The current Si is just a trim level, nothing special, and mostly 4 doors sell, yawn.

Honda brags about being 'most fuel efficient', but promotes the Crosstour, Pilot, and Ridgeline gas hogs. And the Acura lineup is just "Hondas with beaks". Edsel anyone?

tomcatt630 says: 12:09 PM, 05.27.10

opps sorry for double post, please delete it, :-/

carguy58 says: 12:55 PM, 05.27.10

tomcatt 630:

Yes Honda did cater to baby boomers because the boomers own the car market right now.

1487: GMC does not outsell the Honda brand neither does Buick or Caddy. Yes Chevy outsells the Honda brand and GMC, Caddy, and Chevy all outsell Acura. I still would not buy a GM Car because of their lackluster rep for quality. I rather buy a Hyundai than a GM product right now, I understand GM products are vastly improved these day but I agree with poster "U freshies" that GM products are not class leading except maybe for the corvette and some pick-up trucks. Also, you want to brag GM was #1 when it went bankrupt I say please they lost money on every vehicle they sold and bought market share.

I had previously had an 2002 Acura CL before I totaled it. I did not buy a Honda Accord in late 07 because of the bland styling I bought a Mazda 6i sport instead. Honda's are really bland these days with the exception of the TSX maybe. The CR-V is alright for what it is too but thats about it. I don't like the current TL, since the 04-08 model was a beautiful looking car that was ruined. The CR-Z has weak styling for what it is and the current Insight was rushed into production and about the Pilot the back end reminds something Olds would do in the 90's not a good thing. The current Accord 4dr is too big and has weak styling. The Coupe is ok but its not a looker.

About BMW their share went down because of Bungle no I mean Bangle(Chris Bangle.)

ibmindless says: 1:01 PM, 05.27.10

Honda & Acura have definitely lost their way. I've been saying this for several years. The INNOVATION and PUBLIC PULSE they had has vaporized. They are following the GM model, just as Toyota & Chrysler have done: milk all you can out of an old design and look to cut costs by cheaping out on basic features and pushing up prices on options. Honda dropped the S2000, Acura dropped the NSX. Acura's top end luxo barge, the RL, has always played second fiddle to the Lexus LS 400/430/460.

While Infiniti had the G35/37, Honda propped up the front drive TL. And now they have completely ruined any hope for the Pokemon caricatured and deformed TL, TSX & MDX lines. Apparently the top management at Honda. Acura & Toyota have become content to become gluttons and survive on their own fat, whereas the former junk makers Hyundai and Ford seem to have gotten the public's message and are now apparently hungry enough to INNOVATE and LISTEN.

iskch says: 9:12 AM, 05.28.10

Great article. Honda felt on the conformity mode. True, no more high tech engines not even the mention of the D.I system and their cars are balnd. Honda had the chance to keep up the momentun and they lost it 8 years ago.

To the Honda engineers and marketing people... take the blinds off and look at the competition.

1487 says: 11:55 AM, 05.28.10

carguy:

The fact that die hard Honda fans wont buy GM products proves nothing. People who are closed minded and stuck in the 80s will never grow up and accept times have changed. You don't strike me as open minded in any way so your assertions that GM quality isn't on par with Hyundai or Honda are what I would expect. Quality is good across the board today. CR's data is flawed in numerous ways and they present data in a way that makes it appear as if there is a wide spread between manufacturers when that is not the case. JD Power data and GM's own warranty costs prove that their quality is very close to that of the Asian automakers. You say nothing but the corvette is class leading. What about the Enclave? What about the Equinox? What about the Escalade? Any of those could make a strong argument for being best in class. That isnt really relevant to Honda because we are hard pressed to name a single Honda that could be considered best in class. The whole premise that you need a handful of best in class vehicles to be considered a competent automaker is absurd. Even Toyota doesn't have more than 2 vehicles that could be considered best in class. The point is GM's vehicles have improved dramatically in style, interior quality, overall quality and technology over the last 5 years or so while Honda has remained steady. Keep living in the past if you chose to but you better hope Honda doesn't do the same.

1487 says: 11:59 AM, 05.28.10

ut:

check out edmunds estimates for May sales and marketshare. The same trends are in play. GM and Ford are growing share while Honda is slightly losing share.

Just for reference you don't "prove" that GM is lost by talking about products like Cobalt and Aveo that are being replaced within months. The Cobalt is GM's oldest model and its not surprising that its not a benchmark. Cruze comes out in 3 months and it will be far better than Cobalt and will eclipse the Civic in several areas. Google it if you know nothing about the car. Aveo is also dated and scheduled for replacement soon. GM's new products are more than competitive with anything Honda is selling. Now that GM and ford are attacking the small car market the established players (honda and Toyota) stand to lose the most share. Both American automakers have nowhere to go but up in terms of sales and share in the small car market. Sorry to break the news to you.

bb49 says: 9:23 PM, 05.28.10

I agree with your article completely--and I would add that Honda is way behind almost everyone else in its transmissions. It's just starting to offer 6 speed autos and by all account its new 6 speed is not a technological marvel (ie. no dual clutch design and the manual shifting mode is slow to engage). Honda/Acura styling is also very questionable and to make matter worse although almost everyone hate the Acura beak grille--Acura continues to expand this ugly design theme throughout its lineup. It's latest products are really disappointing the Insight should be pulled from the market and the CR-Z is a prime example of much Honda has forgotten how to design cars that car enthusiasts will shower accolades upon. It should have been obvious to Honda that the CR-Z''s pathetic powertrain does not belong in any sporty car. Honda should be embarrassed with 10.5 second 0 to 60 times and like the Civic redesign--it should have delayed the CR-Z's introduction until it could have given it more powerful engine.

bb49 says: 9:39 PM, 05.28.10

Another example which supports this article is comparing the 2011 six cylinder Mustang to the Accord Coupe. The Ford is faster, handles better, gets better gas mileage and is cheaper than the Accord.

mickrussom says: 4:36 PM, 05.29.10

Honda is now a garbage car company. Chrysler, GM and Honda and Most of Toyota are garbage. The NSX, Prelude and S2000 days are gone. Honda the losers dont even have a DOCH V6, not even in the Acura lineup. The new Accord looks like crap. The no-show on the Accord Diesel is pathetic. The have a terrible hybrid offering and dont have any turbos in the Honda lineup. Its a pathetic loser car company a total has been and I will no longer be interested in this garbage car company until they fire the losers responsible for the horrible chrome at acura and the horrible design of the Accord and develop some non-garbage engine tech.

From the losers who brought the glorious VTEC now they are bottom of the line losers in a worse position than Mazda.

1487 says: 6:50 AM, 06.01.10

from a product standpoint GM, Ford and Toyota are better off than Honda.

aaykay says: 9:08 AM, 06.01.10

With Japanese manufacturers moving in a big way to opening up manufacturing plants in the US, they in turn had to rely on local suppliers for components. This in turn led to the Hondas, Toyotas, Nissans, Mazdas and Subarus, re-vamping the product quality of these suppliers and doing a bottom-up re-engineering of how manufacturing and QA is done here in the US.

A side benefit from this quality improvement at the vendors' was that the domestics like Ford, GM and Chrysler were the key beneficiaries from this, since they too sourced components from these very same suppliers that the Japanese manufacturers relied on and whose quality was revamped. So the improvement in the quality of the domestics was no accident, even though they still have a way to go before they are fully caught up with the Japanese - a fact that is easily observable while walking around on a rental car lot, where even the cheaper Japanese makes have very good gap tolerances, while the domestics are still found lacking in that regard.

aaykay says: 9:34 AM, 06.01.10

As far as this topic is concerned, yes, Honda has certainly lost its way, especially when it comes to the products that are coming out in the Acura portfolio. The styling of the Acura TL in particular, is just plain hideous. The Cross-tour and the ZDX are just products that escaped out of an Automotive freak-show. I have no idea how such designs saw the light of day, while killing off products like the scintillating S2000 and the promising/fledgling new NSX program.

Having said that, the Honda Accord is still a very fetching product and has truly moved the envelop - design wise and also visually. The Civic is still a leading contender in its space. The Honda Fit is still a class leader in its space, even though the latest Fiesta (and upcoming Mazda 2 on which the Fiesta is based) is promising to provide it competition on a sportiness front. The Honda Odyssey is still a class leader in my eyes, even with the advent of the new Toyota Sienna. The Pilot needs some finishing touches all around but otherwise is a good product overall. The CRV is in-offensive and still is a high quality product that meets the needs of its marketspace.

But the Acura column is pretty dismal, except for the MDX, the TSX and maybe the RDX. The TL's interior is superb, the driving dynamics are par for the course but the exterior design is just shameful. After the slick exterior of the previous generation TL, what led Honda to create such a circus-freak exterior for the current TL ? Thank goodness the TSX was spared of this stylistic horror-treatment ! The RL is blandly inoffensive and if Honda wants to continue to offer it with the V6 engine, then they just just put it out of its misery and just kill it, since people in its marketspace are not looking for a plain, bland, in-offensive sedan with a V6 engine with its roots in a down-market product like the Honda Accord - Honda needs to learn lessons from Toyota/Lexus, Infiniti, Audi, BMW and Mercedes on what the expectations from the Luxury audience is. The MDX is certainly a bright spot in the Acura range and hopefully the sales should reflect that.

The Acura ZDX and the Honda Crosstour are an absolute disgrace as products. How could Honda introduce such abominations, after killing off the S2000 and the new NSX program ? Granted, the recessionary environment was not well suited to a program like the NSX but what about garbage like ZDX and Crosstour ? How could these abominations come through the recessionary design period, unscathed and intact and actually see the light of day as production models ? Honda has definitely lost its way - at least from a design perspective. The new TSX is a very good product overall but they just killed the steering feel - why would Honda go and mess with one of the plus points of the prior TSX ? The TSX wagon is too little, too late - but better late than never is all I can say !

PS: I am a long term Honda owner and have owned several Integras, the 2nd generation TL, the first generation MDX etc., and currently the only Honda product I own is the 2009 Honda Fit (which I really love for its overall execution - it is a packaging marvel !). I really wanted to buy the 2010 TL with SH-AWD and 6-speed MT but simply could not get past the horrible and cheap/chintzy exterior - yuck !

grbeck says: 9:40 AM, 06.01.10

1487: The fact that die hard Honda fans wont buy GM products proves nothing. People who are closed minded and stuck in the 80s will never grow up and accept times have changed.

This doesn't change the fact that GM quality is still lower than Honda's overall quality, which is the original point of the post. Stay on topic, please.

1487: You don't strike me as open minded in any way so your assertions that GM quality isn't on par with Hyundai or Honda are what I would expect. Quality is good across the board today.

But Honda's quality is still better than GM's, which is the relevant fact here. What incentive is there for the customer to switch brands if the quality is inferior?

1487: CR's data is flawed in numerous ways and they present data in a way that makes it appear as if there is a wide spread between manufacturers when that is not the case. JD Power data and GM's own warranty costs prove that their quality is very close to that of the Asian automakers.

When you have found a better method of measuring quality, let us know, but the simple fact is that others who have tried to improve upon the Consumer Reports system (most notably Michael Karesh) have also found that Honda quality is superior to that of GM's. And every independent mechanic I talk to says that Honda and Toyota still top GM in this regard - although they agree that both GM and and Ford have improved dramatically over the past 4-5 years.

1487: You say nothing but the corvette is class leading. What about the Enclave? What about the Equinox? What about the Escalade? Any of those could make a strong argument for being best in class.

Enclave - nope. Equinox - nope. (Doesn't mean that they are bad vehicles - just not best in class.) Escalade - yes, but note that there isn't a Honda competitor for the Escalade.

Remember that the original question was which GM vehicles beat their Honda counterparts in road tests...I can't think of any at this point, except for perhaps the Ridgeline versus the Silverado/Sierra. The fact that you don't buy the results is irrelevant.

1487: That isnt really relevant to Honda because we are hard pressed to name a single Honda that could be considered best in class.

Civic, Accord, CR-V, Fit and TSX. If you are "hard pressed" to name those vehicles as best of their respective classes, you need to become better informed to have some credibility in this discussion.

1487:The whole premise that you need a handful of best in class vehicles to be considered a competent automaker is absurd.

If a manufacturer is coming from behind, it had better have vehicles that are either best in class, or offer attributes not available from the competition. Otherwise, rebates are necessary to get buyers to even set foot in the showroom. GM has been proving that one true for over 20 years.

1487: Even Toyota doesn't have more than 2 vehicles that could be considered best in class.

You may have missed it, but Toyota didn't declare bankruptcy within the past 12-18 months. It can afford to be complacent for now (which is not a good thing, but to compare Toyota's position to that GM's is absurd).

1487: The Cobalt is GM's oldest model and its not surprising that its not a benchmark.

Yet I seem to recall you, just a few years ago, claiming that the Cobalt was just as good as the current Civic. I guess you finally saw the light on this one - congratulations.

1487: Cruze comes out in 3 months and it will be far better than Cobalt and will eclipse the Civic in several areas. Google it if you know nothing about the car.

Actually, I know plenty about the car - starting with the fact that it has received lukewarm reviews in every market where it is currently on sale. It can't even beat the current-generation Civic or European Focus in road tests, so I'm not holding my breath for the Cruze to mark the end of GM's commitment to small-car mediocrity. It will be a big deal for YOU, but most customers have a more sophisticated view of what constitutes a good small car. For one thing, they were never excited about the Cobalt.

1487: GM's new products are more than competitive with anything Honda is selling.

"Competitive" isn't enough when you are coming from behind. You have to be better than the competition to get customers to switch. So far, I see nothing from GM that is BETTER than what Honda is selling.

aaykay says: 9:42 AM, 06.01.10

I have always been a big fan of the high revving Honda DOHC engines. Even though they have been able to make their SOHC engines (both 4 cylinders and 6-cylinders) perform as well as the comparable DOHC engines of their competitors, their SOHC engines are simply unable to deliver the thrills that their DOHC engines can deliver.

I would like to see them expand their DOHC engine lineup and at least in the Acura lineup, they need to go to an all-DOHC line. Using the Accord's SOHC V6 across the entire lineup, all the way from the Accord, to the Pilot, to the Ridgeline to the Odyssey......and then stretching into the Acuras like the TSX V6 to the TL V6 to the RL V6, the MDX V6, the ZDX V6 may be a recipe to save some money but is not a good pathway to conveying a luxury feel for those Acura customers.

ralphhightower says: 3:39 PM, 06.05.10

I drove a few Hondas; motorcyles, that is. A Honda car? Only if it was the last manufacturer.

zeniff says: 11:06 PM, 06.11.10

I'm a Honda fanatic. Have been for a long time. And frankly, Honda sucks, and has been sucking for years. It's like they completely forgot to listen to the market they had, and decided to try and do the same thing everyone else was doing. And now they do....they do the same thing as everyone else, 2-4 years after everyone else has already done it. I've been thinking of writing Honda to express my feelings for a couple years now. But it's like they don't even want to hear from their customers. You can't send them an email. You either have to call them, or fax them, or mail them. Are you kidding?
C'mon Honda. Pull your head out.

gansan says: 7:09 PM, 06.14.10

I have been a Honda fan since high school. I've owned and driven a Civic, two Integra Type Rs, and an NSX. The past ten years, I have watched with sadness the erosion of that engineering brilliance that made me a fan. Everyone I know who loved the Hondas of the 90s has expressed nothing but disappointment with the trend the company has taken since. They have rested on their laurels for years and are now paying for it. Sure there are pockets of brilliance but they are getting edged out by the mediocre majority. The good thing is that the situation is salvageable. They can regain their footing much the way Nissan executed their turnaround over the past decade. All they need is some leadership with the kind of vision and a commitment to excellence they once had.

bb49 says: 2:05 AM, 06.18.10

To me the CR-Z is good example of what is wrong with Honda today. It stubbornly insisted on making it a hybrid only and promoting the car as the intersection of Sport and Hybrid and succeeded in producing an Insight Coupe with little if any "sport". Honda's poor performing hybrid system does nothing in making the Cr-Z sporty--all it does is add weight and cost and makes the CR-Z slower than many minvans and econoboxes (actually it probably is one of the slowest cars on sale today). Neither does the hybrid system deliver particularly outstanding gss mileage. What is extremely troubling about the CR-Z powerrain is that the new Ford Fiesta delivers better gas mileage than the Cr=Z without having to go the hybrid route (to make matters worse the CR-Z isn't really much faster than the Fiesta if it all).

tlong says: 8:25 PM, 07.12.10

I used to be a big Honda fan. I liked smaller, sporty but practical cars -- like the Civic and Accord. Our '92 Accord is still the best car we've ever owned.

Lately Hondas are ever-growing bloatware. Each generation gets bigger, softer, and uglier. The only Honda I actually think is really attractive is the current Civic.

I now look at Mazdas, although their latest front ends look like they hired a Honda designer! But they still are sporty handling and better looking overall.

It looks like Hyundai is really coming on strong. I wonder what their next small car will be like? Toy and Maz and Hon had better be scared.

tophoppop says: 3:26 PM, 01.22.11

Sadly, I recommended my Honda minivan to all the moms in my playgroup and about 8 of them ended up buying one for their families. Now, my 80,000 mile year 2000 Honda without towing capabilities is having a transmission problem that the Honda dealership quoted me $5400 dollars to fix! REALLY?! HONDA.

We are shopping around for a new van or SUV, and Honda is coming out at the bottom in terms of cost and warranty. In fact Honda won't even offer a 10 year 100,000 mile or lifetime warranty that so many other manufactures are offering. Does Honda not realize that Moms with minivans talk to each other at playgroups, playgrounds, and schoolyards ALL OF THE TIME and we also talk about how dealerships treat us?

ceipower says: 11:07 AM, 08.05.11

What I've seen inside Honda is a change in corporate leadership with regards to any criticism. The company that was created by Mr. Honda thrived on constant improvement. Todays Honda is run by a board that has to fund the corporate jet dream that has cost Honda billions and has so far not returned a dime. This obsession had led to the milking of all exsisting Honda products for profit(cars,motorcycles,power Equipment) at the expense of any real investment in improvement. This article does a good job of listing How Hondas product (in this case autos) has been milked to the point that it's obvious to all except those who head up the current Honda Motor company.
Today( 8/2011) the new Civic is out and after a one year delay (to make it more competitive?) Now,for the first time ever , Consumer Reports says they won't recommend it. Even the so called enthusist magazines are giving it less than top marks. Corporate Hondas response: we don't agree.
Mr. Honda must be spinning in his grave ,... and the corporate jet that all this was sacrificed for is still burning thru cash. Having been a small part of the Honda culture for 30+ years , Honda would insist that I tell you that this is just my opinion. (Just another example of Hondas current mindset)

ispano says: 4:46 PM, 10.17.11

The problem with Honda is that everyone else caught up to their 10 year ago old technology while adopting some other crude forms of maximizing MPG. They have been the ones to copy and now that Honda has become introvert and ultra secretive of the future technologies they are developing, it is completely understandable that the Honda that American consumers see in show rooms appears bland compared to the competition.

The thing is, that blandness has never changed. It only appears bland because of the fact that other manufacturers have literally had to re-invent their products with complete redesigns. Notably, Hyundais of late look nothing like Hyundai's of before. Other research also shows that the frequency at which Full-Model-Change occurs seem to have benefited Japanese brands when American domestic brands had a year longer cycle. It's clear that consumerism has changed due to the internet era - trending no longer can occur because the internet provides near real-time data where trends cannot be made out due to knee-jerk reactions. Our economy no longer is cyclical but rather reactionary. Americans are enamored with anything "new" even if they can't justifiably afford it. And if they can't they go for the "best" bang for the buck. The "best" part is subjective.

Hyundai is being touted as the new Honda but without any REAL innovation to back it. In truth, Honda is still the innovation leader and the #1 automobile brand in Japan by consumer sentiment- the Japanese are one of the most quality critical consumers of the world. Honda also deals with much more than just cars and while automobile sales is what allows them to R&D non-automobile applications such as robotic walk assist suit for assembly line workers and gyro-scoping bikes that allow employees to move side to side while in the sitting position, and enzymes that break up and eat up fibrin that leads to blood clots (a common issue with pilots and truck drivers who sit for extended periods of time while on their routes who suffered stroke/heartache immediately after getting up from their long trips).

The sad state of affairs with the United States and the government's reluctance in adopting a hydrogen economy is really what has set back Honda.

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"It is significant, too, that talk of hydrogen seems to have dampened down in the US. After President Bush announced in 2003 that hydrogen-powered cars would be at heart of how America weaned itself off oil, the Obama administration has pulled back from promoting the technology with energy secretary Steven Chu stating in 2009 that support for research programmes would be curtailed because the government was "moving away from funding vehicular hydrogen fuel cells to technologies with more immediate promise".

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/24/hydrogen-power-cars-government-support
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The lack of foresight in this technology by the US government as well as its dependence on an oil business is the cause. If you notice the last two words - 'immediate promise", is exactly what all brands other than Honda and BMW have done. It seems to me that Honda and BMW are the ONLY manufacturers that are responsibly planning for the next 50 years. Just watch, Japan and Germany will soon be in the hydrogen economy era while the US lags behind on crude oil and batteries.

Other lesser innovation brands have simply gone the route of Direct Fuel Injection, which is a technology Mitsubishi introduced in 1950. Honda refuses to use a mediocre technology that is laden with failure points. In other words, Direct Injection is not good enough for Honda. Honda themselve have mentioned in previous years that current hybrid technology is a stop-gap of the real hybrid revolution. Unfortunately, the US government believes EV is a better solution than Hydrogen (too lazy to revamp infrastructure), and American brands are now using GDI since Audi and Hyundai are. It is only a quick and dirty solution and one that I would prefer Honda not take.

In short, there is nothing wrong with Honda. Honda cars still get the best mpg/emissions compared to other brands, their designs are understated yet neutral, inoffensive, and leaves room for aftermarket personalization. I can't wait for the next generation of Honda cars, starting with the Clarity that goes on sale in 2014. Honda is merely echoing the sentiments of the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association(JAMA) of "BLUE SKIES FOR OUR CHILDREN". Automobile critics should look inward and wonder if they are concerned about the same thing.

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