Honda Plays It Safe With 9th-Generation 2012 CivicBy Paul Seredynski January 13, 2011
Honda took the wraps off concept versions of its 2012 Civic Si coupe and Civic sedan Monday at the Detroit auto show. In typical Honda fashion, the concept vehicles are just lightly modified versions of the production cars that will go on sale in the U.S market this spring. Also in Honda fashion, the concepts previewed a design that takes little risk and seeks to serve the compact market with the widest variety of models in the segment.
The 2012 Honda Civic will continue its ways as a "Civic for all people" by maintaining its wide offerings as a four-door sedan and two-door coupe and with a sporty Si, a hybrid and a natural gas version.
Beyond that Honda was stingy with details on the soon-upcoming Civic. In fact, Honda showed only exterior concepts -- with no interiors.
No powertrain details were given. Honda promised fuel-efficiency gains for all versions, including a 40-mpg highway rating for the gasoline-engined versions. The Civic Hybrid will return, this time with a lithium-ion battery pack. The natural-gas Civic GX version will roll out to consumers nationwide. Honda also hinted at another Civic model that will join the lineup (likely a plug-in hybrid), but gave no timing details on alt-fuel model availability.
Asked at the unveil what the new Civic means for Honda, Chuck Schifsky, Manager, Regional Public Relations Operations replied, "A lot. It means we continue on being able to provide a Civic for almost anyone who's in the market for a Civic: Hybrid, GX, Si, two-door, four-door, Si. A little bit of everything. We think we're doing very well with the current car, which has been on sale six years, so we're thinking the new car will do better than where we are now."
The Civic could use a boost. A perennial top-10 best-seller in America (No. 5, right ahead of Toyota's Corolla), Honda Civic sales for 2010 totaled 260,218 units, up only 0.8 percent over 2009, one of the more dismal years in auto sales history. This suggests whatever market share Toyota gave up in 2010 obviously did not come Honda's way. Along with the Accord, the Civic and its larger sedan sibling comprised 49 percent of Honda's total sales in 2010.
With expanded and formidable competition growing in the compact segment via the stylish new Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus - both on display at the same Detroit show - more daring styling for the 2012 Civic perhaps should have been in order. With no look at the new Civic's interior, Honda may just be testing the waters on this reskin, or more likely, taking the safer route toward the fat middle of the market.
The current generation-eight Civic has sold exceptionally well in the U.S. for Honda, with more than 1.5 million sales since its introduction as a 2006 model at the end of 2005.
"The Civic is known for providing a balance of 'just-right' packaging, fun-to-drive character and outstanding fuel economy, at a price that even first-time buyers can afford," said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda. "The redesigned Civic builds on this legacy and promises to be the best Civic yet."
No pricing was discussed at the reveal for the 2012 Civic concepts, but according to Schifsky, pricing is likely to rise only "ever so slightly" over the current Civic.
There's no arguing that the 2012 Civic will continue to offer the widest model lineup in the segment, but it appears unlikely to lure many new Honda customers via the styling previewed in Detroit. The conservative tack will offend no one, proving no threat to the impressive sales volumes. Honda may instead have to rely on its platinum brand equity and perhaps inspiring powertrain and chassis tuning performance to begin to reignite the Civic's stagnant sales curve.