Honda Kills Boxy Element After 9-Year RunBy Michelle Krebs December 3, 2010
Honda announced this morning that it will drop the boxy Element model from its line-up at the end of the 2011 model year.
The Element had become long in the tooth, having remained virtually the same with only powertrain and safety upgrades since it was introduced in December 2002 as a 2003 model.
At the same time, its box-car competition increased with the introduction of the first- and second-generations of Toyota's Scion xB, the new Kia Soul and the Nissan Cube.
Honda's statement on the demise of the Element said "utility-seeking customers have more recently embraced other vehicles in the Honda lineup like the versatile and comfortable CR-V."
Sales of the Element have been dropping almost since it was introduced. The Element hit a high of 67,099 sold in its first full year on the market in 2003, according to Edmunds.com records. It bumped along at over 50,000 units a year from 2004 to 2006. Then its sales dropped preciptiously at just over 14,885 sold in 2009.
On Wednesday, Honda's November sales report showed the automaker sold a mere 939 Element models, a 12 percent decline from only 1,017 in the much worst market of November 2009. That brought this year's total to 12,961, ensuring 2010 Element sales will be lower than those in 2009.
This at a time when the small SUV -- or CUV -- segment was booming. In 2003, the Element accounted for nearly 10 percent of its segment, a number that steadily dwindled to this year's 2.5 percent.
"Compact SUVs have been one of the strongest segments this decade, but the Element never proved to be a high-volume seller despite its low price. It probably suffered from too much competition -- even from within its own showroom," said Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell.
The introduction of the Kia Soul may have been the last straw for the Element, which is running dead last in sales among the "box" cars by a huge margin. Kia has sold more than 60,000 units of the No. 1 box car Soul so far this year, compared to the Element's under 13,000.
The Element also became increasingly less important as a contributor within Honda's product line. Its sales accounted for nearly 9 percent of Honda's total sales in 2004. In the past two years, it has represented just over 1 percent of Honda's total sales.
Still, Honda didn't really juice sales with incentives either. In most years, Honda spent relatively little compared with the rest of the industry on incentives that covered the Element.
All of these factors likely prompted Honda executives to decide not to revamp the Civic-based Element when the Civic finally gets a remake next year. The Civic's redesign was pushed back. Speculation is that Honda went back to the drawing board after seeing the new and very formidable competition in the form of the Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra.
The Element was first introduced in concept form as the Honda Model X at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It premiered as a production model in the 2003 model year.
Because of its large cargo area within its small footprint, its versatile seating and its interior that could be hosed down, the Element was popular among small businesses, outdoor enthusiasts and pet owners.
But Honda stuck with the formula perhaps too long. Virtually unchanged since its introduction, the Element got upgrades in power and safety for the 2007 model year. A special Dog Friendly Element accessory package was offered in 2009.
"The Element proved that ultimate functionality can often come from thinking inside the box," John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president, said in a statement issued today. "It made boxy vehicle designs cool, and Element owners continue to enjoy its unique styling and unmatched versatility."
But the Element didn't stay cool for long. "This vehicle was positioned as a 'dorm room on wheels,' but it never quite got the hip reputation it seeked," said Edmunds' Caldwell. "Instead of appealing to young people looking to haul surfboards and bikes, it turned out to be more popular with senior citizens who liked the Element's interior space, versatility and relatively low price tag."