"We're baaack!" That's the message Honda executives want to convey to American consumers. Honda will be full-speed ahead in 2012 with new models, including revisions of its top three best sellers — the Honda Accord, Honda CR-V and Honda Civic.
"We want consumers to know we are back, and we are back in a big way," said John Mendel, Honda North America's executive vice president of auto sales, which include the Honda and Acura brands, in an interview with media and analysts in Detroit last month.
In 2011, Honda was battered more than any other automaker by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that triggered worldwide production disruptions that led to vehicle shortages at U.S. dealerships. Mendel said dealers were operating with about 40 percent of their usual inventory during much of the year. But in 2012, Honda will be "full speed ahead." Production at Honda plants returned to 100 percent in November. The inventory pipeline is expected to be replenished to more "normal" levels by the end March. Honda's portfolio will include the recently revamped CR-V and Civic with a new Accord coming on in the fall. The trio of vehicles account for two-thirds of Honda's total U.S. sales.
Honda will give the first sneak peek of the 2013 Honda Accord at next week's 2012 Detroit Auto Show as a coupe concept. Consumers can watch the live unveiling of the Accord coupe concept on Honda's Web site.
If Honda remains true to form, consumers can expect this concept to be pretty close to the real thing that goes into production next fall in Marysville, Ohio. Honda executives are giving little away about the car until the auto show except to say the concept will reveal the styling direction of the next-generation Accord coupe, a styling direction that will convey a "dynamic and aggressive profile," Honda said. Honda executives did confirm that the ninth-generation Accord will be the first U.S.-sold Honda to be equipped with a new engine — one using direct injection for improved fuel economy. The new engine is part of a family of engines that will be rolled out to future Honda models as they are revised, said American Honda President Tetsuo Iwamura. "These new engines are very competitive in terms of fuel efficiency and performance. They will be a reminder of Honda's strong DNA as an engine maker," he added. A plug-in version of the Accord will be offered as well.
In December, Honda introduced the revamped CR-V. The company expects to have dealership lots filled with them in mid-January. The reviews have been fairly positive for the CR-V. It is one of three finalists for the 2012 North American Truck of the Year, to be announced next week at the Detroit auto show.
In October, Honda launched the revised Civic, but it got off to a rocky start. Reviews were tepid. Automotive critics complained the new Civic was cheapened, especially in the interior, and was not up to par with its competitors. Consumer reports knocked it off its recommended list. The car did not make the list of candidates for the 2012 North American Car of the Year award. And sales were hampered by the lack of availability caused by issues related to the March earthquake. Sales are just now returning to more normal levels for the high-volume small car. It came within 80 sales of being No. 1 in its segment in October, it was number one in November and Honda expects it to be in first place in December.
"The Civic (and subsequent reviews) reinforced for us the expectation customers have for Honda: they don't expect us to be good, they expect us to be exceptional," said Mendel. "That's not a bad thing but it can be a difficult thing. You hit a triple instead of a homerun and people say they are disappointed."
American Honda President Iwamura said cost-cutting was not a factor. Rather, Honda's internal studies showed the new Civic would be "adequate" compared with the competition. However, the competition upped the ante along the way. "The gap we had in the past with competitors has been narrowed." As a result, Honda is accelerating a revamp of the recently revised Civic, though no time for its launch was revealed.