By on August 19, 2008

Monlithic maybe. But successful, definitely. (courtesy media.bzresults.ne)With Chrysler’s slide well underway, it’s only a matter of time before Honda becomes America’s fourth largest automaker (behind Toyota, GM and Ford). Honda will then hold the same rank stateside as it occupies in Japan– behind Toyota, Nissan, and Suzuki. While Honda’s relative success in its home territory may surprise some American industry watchers, the automaker’s contrasting strategy in the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) reveals a hidden “secret” to their U.S. success.

The outlines of the Japanese car market are simple enough. Toyota OWNS the JDM, with a 50 percent market share (GM at its 1960 level). Many automakers have tried to go head-to-head with ToMoCo. Mazda tried; Ford had to take over to bail them out. Nissan has been chasing ToMoCo for over 50 years. It almost killed them. Honda was Japan’s number two at that point. But once Renault got Nissan back in shape, Honda faded back to third (and recently fourth).

It should be remembered that Honda is Japan’s new kid on the block. Taking the top slot at home simply doesn’t hold the same thrill for them as it does for their older rivals (the motorcycle market is another matter.) Considering what has happened to the challengers, it’s probably a sensible decision. 

At the moment, the total Japanese market accounts for 3.2m units a year, equivalent to around 20 percent of total U.S. production. Honda's share: somewhere between 500k and 1m. It’s the breadth of Honda’s JDM lineup that's the most interesting aspect of its home market. Honda sells three sizes of Minivan, Kei-cars with engines that would embarrass motorcycles, station wagons, sedans, compacts, crossovers, you name it. 

Honda Japan offers most of the models familiar to North American buyers, but often in strange configurations (e.g. all-wheel drive Odyssey minivans and Civic sedans and hatchbacks). Only the Pilot is notable by its absence; the boxier and cheaper (than the CR-V) three-row “Crossroad” serves in its stead. 

In stark contrast, the most interesting thing about Honda’s North American offerings is what the brand doesn’t offer. Compared to most of its competition, Honda is missing several sizes of vehicle. Other car companies moving the metal in The Land of the Free sell four sizes of car. Honda has three. Other makers have two kinds of two-row S/CUVs. Honda has one (in three varieties). Even little Mazda has three different mini-vans. Honda NA has one.

A glance at Honda’s oversea website shows that the Japanese automaker produces the vehicles it needs to match the competition, model-for-model. So why hasn’t Honda they brought reinforcements from the land of the horse chestnuts? The answer lies within Honda NA’s option lists.

As far as conventional options go, Honda follows the classic “Japanese import” option path. Every model has two or three basic trims that differ mostly in terms of cosmetic and “convenience” items (CD-changers, moon roofs, alloy wheels etc.). Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is standard across most of the range. Honda's only real “factory” options are satellite navigation and driven wheels (2WD/AWD for the S/CUVs). 

The CR-V, Honda’s perennially popular CUV slash wagon, is available in two-and-a-half trims, plus a pair of “niche-y” cousins. They all come with the same four-cylinder engine (Acura gets a turbo-charger) and two rows of seats. Almost all its rivals offer a V6 engine; several (including Toyota), and provide an optional third row. Despite this supposed deficit, the Honda CR-V has outsold the Toyota RAV-4 for a decade, and looks to be thriving in a bad market (sales on target for 200k).

Minivans? Same deal. Toyota will sell you an AWD mini-van, Honda NA doesn’t. And yet the Odyssey out-sells the Sienna.

This lack of choice is the "secret" key to Honda's success. And it's aimed– rightly– at Honda dealers, rather than the brand’s U.S. customers. By limiting options, Honda keeps it dealers focused on making volume sales, rather than gorging on limited editions. Keeping the models distinct also prevents new vehicles from eating the old. Witness what the Nissan Rogue is doing to the Murano.

Honda’s policy points up its strength (premium prices) and weakness (lack of capacity) in the NA market. Honda sells vehicles that use either 80 to 90 percent or 10 to 20 percent of their production line’s capacity. There is little “sharing.”  Filtering in additional models and variants would increase sales, but it would take a larger percentage of capacity (flexible manufacturing or no).

Honda’s is not the only formula for success in NA. BMW makes plenty of profits by selling dozens of variants of a handful of platforms, with expensive options aplenty. But then, the Bavarians play at a different price point. Selling generic (if loaded) vehicles works well in the American mass market. And no one seems quite as focused on that task as Honda, regardless of their market share here, or at home.

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61 Comments on “The Truth About Honda’s U.S. Success...”


  • avatar
    menno

    I know it’s surprising to hear this, but SUZUKI are the #1 automotive brand in not only JAPAN, but also in INDIA (with partner, Maruti).

    Yes, Toyota is not even #1 in their own nation, for new vehicle sales, and this has been the case for some while.

    What could this mean for Honda? It could mean – “hey, let’s not worry about where we stand in any given market place – let’s keep our eyes on the ball and play well!”

    And, that, they do.

  • avatar
    briancataldi

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. I work for a Honda Tier 1 supplier and it amazings me at how effecient they are in their manufacturing and vehicle execution. The reason I love Honda so much is that when you go to buy a Honda you really only have 1 option for your needs. If you go for a minivan you buy the Odyssey, if you want a small fuel efficient car you get the Civic (the Fit for a tighter budget) and if you want a nice family sedan you get the Accord. There is no badge engineering that competes with each other (Accord and TL buyers rarely overlap I would guess). Overall Honda is small enough to easily change when the market shifts and by offering fewer cars they make sure that they are all competative opposed to the Rouge/Murano issue.
    Lastly, as stated in the article, Honda has a slew of vehicles in Japan that they can bring over in probably 2 years if they really need to fill in the gaps their current products don’t fill (i.e. Fit).

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Andrew does a nice job identifying one reason for Honda’s success in North America: simplifying its offerings. What they have discovered is that they don’t need to chase those few consumers who need a third row or V6 in a cute-ute — they can satisfy 30% of the market with a pared down offering, which is all they need to be #1.

    But another key success factor for Honda, and a big part of what makes them unique is their emphasis on efficiency. Honda didn’t become this year’s most successful automaker in the US because they foresaw $4 gas. They did it out of a corporate philosophy that tries to engineer every hp out of a liter, every mile out of a gallon and every smile out of a calibration.

    That’s why I love their cars and I love being a stockholder.

  • avatar
    tuck

    Article’s good as far as it goes, but it’s missing a key ingredient. Honda treats its models as assets that need to be maintained. Hence it regularly rolls out new and improved versions every few years.

    BMW and Porsche do the same, in fact all the successful car makers do.

    Ford used to have an Accord competitor, the Taurus. Honda kept improving the Accord, and Ford milked the Taurus. The Taurus is now toast. Ford does this with some of its truck lines, one can only guess at why they don’t bother to with their bread and butter lines.

  • avatar

    minor detail – the s2000 has come with a full electronics “save my ass” suite since 2006 when it switched to drive by wire.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Even little Mazda has three different mini-vans. Honda NA has one.

    Did you mean 3 CUV’s? Mazda has 3 JDM minivans but Mazda NA has one.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Andrew does a nice job identifying one reason for Honda’s success in North America: simplifying its offerings.

    That is a huge reason I like Honda products. When I try to look at, for instance, Chevrolet pickups, I get a headache. The option list is insane.

    The same could be said for all the American brands and for Toyota as well. Have you tried configuring a Toyota online? It’s not very user friendly.

  • avatar
    Dr. D

    Smart to say that Honda is one of the smartest players in the automotive world. Make it right, make it well, maintain the quality and upgrade as you go. Essentially Honda is prudently, intelligently proactive, where most auto manufacturers-especially Detroit are wastefully unintelligent and reactive.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I’m a red neck,blue collar piston head,and I don’t do imports.However if the big 3 were to disapear[hey it might happen]Honda would be the only vehicle that would interest me.Toyota, Nissan
    Mazda,not bad but they don’t thrill me.The Koreans are improving but long term? I don’t think so.

    The Germans, VW had good thing going for a lot of years, but they lost thier way.Something like GM eh?Mercedes and BMW? overrated, unreliable and way over priced.I think BMW does a good job in the looks,and image dept,but the death of leasing is going to have many ramifications.One word for Merc, rust!

    Yup! If Honda does what they did for motorcycles,generators,lawnmowers,ATVs,outboards and god knows what else.They won’t be number 4 in vehicles for long.Toyota would do well to look over thier shoulder

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    “Honda will then hold the same rank stateside as it occupies in Japan– behind Toyota, Nissan, and Suzuki.”

    I’m pretty sure than Honda is Japan’s second biggest auto maker, not fourth. Nissan did fight back with Renault but lost the position to Honda (Ghosn’s effective leadership shining through there).

    As for Ford taking over Mazda, that’s not strictly true, either. They own a 33% stake. A takeover would involve ownership of more than 50%. Ford have a controlling stake, nothing more. A controlling stake which could be overruled if the other 67% decide to vote against Ford.

    Back to topic, Honda formula for success is basically the same formula as Toyota. We can crow on about the choice of engines and choice of AWD, RWD or FWD, but Honda (like Toyota) adopted a slow and steady approach. They introduced reliability to the market and created established models and improved them with every generation (Civic, Accord, S2000 etc). That’s what got Honda where they are today.

    Despite being being a commited petrol head (I was baptised with a can of petrol at birth), I still appreciate that I’m in the minority and that most people want a (relatively) cheap car, which is reliable and gets good mpg.

    Something which Honda and Toyota mastered and GM and Ford are playing catch up….

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    With the sole (soul?) exception of the S2000 roadster, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is standard across the range
    Fit.

    Civic.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    The same could be said for all the American brands and for Toyota as well. Have you tried configuring a Toyota online? It’s not very user friendly.

    For Toyota the only things you can choose is the trim level, drivetrain/engine, color, and whether you want option package A (light)or package B (loaded). Any other stuff you want is offered as dealer installed accessories.

    You can’t get much simplier then that!

  • avatar
    threeer

    I’m still most impressed with Honda overall, but wonder if they’ve slightly missed the mark with the Ridgeline and the (now) larger Accord. You can argue the Accord, I suppose, as most Americans still want “bigger and better.” How does the new Accord fair in overall sales so far? That would be a telling mark. Honda seems to (for now) have not fallen victim to Toyota’s attempt at offering vehicles at every single price point, and I hope they stay that way. BTW, I severely miss our 1989 CRX Si…amazing at how much fun 108 HP can be.

  • avatar
    Axel

    tuck:
    Ford used to have an Accord competitor, the Taurus. Honda kept improving the Accord, and Ford milked the Taurus. The Taurus is now toast.

    Yeah, the Taurus used to be a smart, efficient, advanced car that was technically ahead of the competition in every way. Today, it’s a giant, bloated, bubble-car, unlike the Accord which… oh, wait…

  • avatar
    Axel

    I wonder if Honda could use a car between Civic and Accord, now that Accord is so bloated large and upscale. Something to go up directly against Fusion, Malibu, and Altima, with driving dynamics as the #1 design goal.

    What does a Civic owner step up to? Certainly not an Accord. Maybe to a TL or TSX if they have that kind of cash. More likely an Altima is the car for them. Not too large, and still tight and fun to drive. If Honda had something in this segment they could further push up the Accord into Avalon territory, where they seem to want it anyway.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Katie, Honda is 2nd largest on that list due to its international volume. It’s bigger in the US than it is in the Japanese market.

    Unlike the other major companies that grew out of pre-war firms, Honda started just 60 years ago, and didn’t build their first car until 1967! When the Japanese government paved the way for car exports to the US, they only intended the Big 2 at the time, Toyota and Nissan, to make the initial jump. Honda went anyway, and the rest is history. Things were different for a young company with a clear leader in charge – the car world would be a lesser place without Honda Soichiro.

  • avatar
    Rix

    Not all Japanese automakers have this sort of simplicity. Ever specced out a Lexus? Hit the options sheet and the price goes way high, way fast.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    The secert to Honda’s success:

    INDEPENDENCE!

    Now it is time to play devils advocate here. The crack in Honda’s armor are beginning to show. One look at the Acura line-up and the extreme closeness between the Accord, TSX, TL, & RL do identify the fact that Honda is not as dynamic as it once was. Gone (at least from the NA market) are the type of cars that once truly made Honda unique. No more CRX, no more Prelude, no more AWD Civic wagon, No more Civic Hatcbacks. Also gone is the wishbone suspension from the Civic (yes it is quite noticable). The once great (and unique platformed) Legend has been reduce to nothing more than a stretched Accord.
    We have an over-priced S2000 that does not sell well, a bloated lineup of Crossovers trying to look like real SUVs. As 2008 soldiers on Honda’s success is defined by the Fit, Civic, Accord, and Odyessy, of which the Civic and Accord can not be had in anything other than sedan or coupe.
    Also as far as I am concerned Honda is still saddled with one of the most fickle Auto-trannys in the business.

    IMO, in NA HOnda is try to follow too closely behind Toyota and is surrendering its unique qualities to battle a giant that will always be able to crush them on price alone. AS Toyota blindly morphs into a GM clone Honda appears to be willing to ape Toyota’s moves. While Honda is doing this Mazda is now making very Honda-like cars today; compact and SPORTY hatchbacks, a little light-weight (affordable) roadster, a real mini “mini-van”, a true 4dr 4 seat sports car.
    That is thinking outside the box, something that Honda does not appear to be doing much of lately.

    To think that whoever is running the show at Honda actually believe that core entry level Honda fans that fell in love with Integras and RSXs wanted to upgrade to a ugly, over-priced, inefficient cute-ute, the RDX. Yet did not make a $33,000 AWD turbocharger TSX!

    In a nutshell Honda has told all of those MALES that “made” the brand and helped built the reputation in the USA to take a hike!

  • avatar
    John Horner

    There are many reasons for Honda’s US success, and a streamlined product portfolio is indeed one of them.

    Running a supply chain, assembly factory and dealer network efficiently is greatly enhanced by minimizing the number of permutations and combinations of vehicles. Because of this, fully optioned Honda products are often sold at a discount to a similar vehicle from Toyota because Toyota plays the options and option packages game in a much more Euro/American fashion.

    The auto industry has been saying for years that it needs to minimize the number of different ways a given vehicle can be ordered, but only Honda (in the US) seems to really stick to that philosophy. This has got to make it much simpler and cheaper to manage the production process and probably also means lower component costs thanks to higher, and more predictable, purchases from suppliers. Honda also simplifies many components by using a common parts as much as possible. For example, one oil filter fits every Acura/Honda US vehicle (excepting the Isuzu built Rodeo and the niche S2000/NSX models) sold for the last 20+ years!

    “In a nutshell Honda has told all of those MALES that “made” the brand and helped built the reputation in the USA to take a hike!”

    Hmmm, I see that differently. The tuner road-racer crowd which long flocked to Honda was in many ways a detriment to Honda’s mainstream market potential. Just as blinged out Escalades turned off Cadillac’s traditional customer base I think Honda was in great danger of loosing the heart of the automotive market thanks to the special attention being paid to them by the import tuner crowd. Said MALES also for a long time pushed certain Hondas to the top of the most often stolen lists. Most of that crowd never bought a new Honda at all.

    Cool quirky niche products are fun, but they don’t pay the bills. Mazda has an interesting lineup right now and is well suited to play the niche vehicle game because they share platforms with solidly mainstream Ford. Take away Ford’s massive global base and Mazda would be right back at death’s door. For all of Ford’s screw ups, they should get props for making good use of the Mazda relationship.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Interesting article. I think a good point is made – Honda gains efficiency by not offering every imaginable combination of options.

    However, I think Katie is right – the bigger reason for their success is the slow and steady continual product improvement.

    As a long time Honda buyer (and like Mikey I’m blue collar and somewhat redneck) I’ve always appreciated being able to just choose the trim level that has the equipment I want, and then be done with it.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Many who have posted to this story have used one word to describe Honda’s model/production strategy: simple. This core idea is made even more powerful because it is the defining idea behind their whole brand. No fuzzy irrational model overlaps or dysfunctional brands competing for advertising budgets and the consumer’s share of mind. In this simple strategy one can see the way forward for companies like GM, Ford, or even Toyota. Focus, people. That’s the thing that makes brands stronger.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    The new accord is a succes. Yes, its a monster, but heck, the civic is a monster by former compact standards, and there is no need for a car inbetween: Honda has “Tardis” (Fit), Moderate (Civic), and Flippin Big (Accord). Why do they need another?

    The Ridgeline is a failure, but it doesn’t matter too much.

    Design wise, it shares a metric boatload of stuff with the Odyssey and Pilot. About the only thing beyond the skin (inside and out) is the ladder frame under the unit-body and the resulting suspension tweaks.

    And production wise, it shares a line (a “no-gaps-to-change-product line”) with the Civic, and it used to be that way with the Pilot/Odyssey line.

    And it even extends to the name. A hatch (in europe), a sedan, a coupe, SI sedan, SI coupe. They are all Civics. Accord is coupe & sedan, but always Accord.

    Contrast with Toyota. Solara? Matrix? They dilute the name, and dilute the focus.

    And its right. Honda will, and SHOULD never be #1. (Their motorcycles are someways weaker than the competition, because they ARE #1). Honda, in #2, is a force to be reconed with.

  • avatar
    MH900e

    Axel:
    Honda still considers the Accord in the mid-size category, although it is now classified as a large car by federal standards. The Altima and Malibu are now finally the size of the current Camry/previous Accord. Since Honda and Toyota have overtaken this segement (and several others), one would think that the competition would benchmark them for size/options. This is where I believe the big 3 don’t compete. The Fusion and Sebring/Avenger are not competitevly sized to the volume leaders. Likewise, the Escape and GM small CUV’s are not competitively sized to the leaders (CR-V and RAV4).

    carlisimo:
    It’s Soichiro Honda.

    Rix:
    Lexus is competing with BMW and Mercedes, which offer expansive options on their vehicles. And is reflected in the pricing .

    whatdoiknow1:
    Although it does seem that Honda has made some mistakes with Acura, the other vehicles you list (CRX, Prelude, Civic Hatch/Wagon) didn’t sell well. And it isn’t worth the investment for them to develop/sell these cars in NA.
    Also, I don’t think that 5 Crossovers (3 Honda, and 2 Acura – Honda and Acura being different price ranges) to be bloated.
    And Honda is not trying to follow Toyota’s path. They strive to build the best vehicles in their classes with continual improvement, and if they provide this, sales will follow. Unlike Toyota’s attempt to become the sales leader, Honda is striving for modest continuous growth.

    John Horner
    Running a supply chain, assembly factory and dealer network efficiently is greatly enhanced by minimizing the number of permutations and combinations of vehicles.
    This is correct. Honda runs batches of the same vehicle in their plants, so every car in the line is the same. I’ve been to Big 3 plants where every vehicle is different (color, model, options) – this makes assembly much more difficult, and more prone to problems. The Honda method is very simple and efficient.

    Also, the Ridgeline (and even Element) are not as big of failures to Honda as they may seem. Their target volume was much lower than other models, and therefore still make money on them.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Honda also has a backbone in car racing – not for the sake of advertising like most MFGRs but for the sake of improving the company – it was Sorichiro Honda’s demand that they compete in the highest forms of racing and they rotate their engineering staff through the various racing programs and back to production (this gave us 4 wheel ind suspension, VTEC, CVCC, NSX, etc.)

    While most MFGRs offer a “cheaper” base model with no options – you have to add in all the options lists to equal a LX / LX V6, EX, EX-L, EX-V6 models. Simplification makes it very easy for a customer to visit a website pick the car and get quotes from various dealers from current stock that are all the same (sans maybe color) – and go buy it the next day. No waiting for and searching from various dealers to find the car with the options levels you need and no BAIT & SWITCH (sell you to a higher up model that has more options than you wanted).

    Honda’s factories are not the utmost efficient but the give up that extra mile in order to be able to switch over lines and build a different model much more quickly than any other manufacturer.

    Then add in the fact that Honda as well as Toyota and Nissan – work very closely with their suppliers and pay more for parts and help them develop in global competition in order to keep them as a long term stable partner rather than an adversary of cost.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    I think the success has less to do with having fewer offerings than that nearly every vehicle line is at or near the top of it’s class and all do well in reliability.

    The customer knows when they step into a Honda store they are getting what they pay for and that the person who buys it from them used will be happy to pay more than for other brands.

    It is the difference between price and vlaue.

    I think a lot of you are grossly overstating the Accord’s size.
    For instance it is lighter than the new Malibu which has an smaller interior, nearly identical in dimensions to the Prius and smaller than the old Maz6 (yet manages not to get slammed for it).
    Weight is what hurts.
    I bet the average buyer doesn’t see it as “bigger” on the outside when they look at it but I think many are impressed with the room when they get inside. Remember, we enthusiasts are the odd ducks of the buying public. Our opinion is way overrated.

    Bunter

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Paging Mr Takeo Fujisawa to the red courtesy phone please. Mr Takeo Fujisawa to the red courtesy phone please. You have a call from Mr Louis-Joseph Chevrolet.

  • avatar
    ex-dtw

    I agree too that the armour is cracking for Honda.

    After having sat in a new Odyssey and comparing it the Kia, I was more impressed by the interior of the Kia. Basically a better executed Honda.

    I did end up with the Odyssey, due primarily to resale values, but I am not impressed in the slightest with the quality of the interior. It is poorly put together. And this is from a guy who traded in his 2001 Prelude for the Odyssey (a guy grow up, etc.)

    The fit and finish is just sub-par on this vehicle. I could go on about glove compartment moldings not lining up, or rough edges everywhere but it really would take up too much space.

    I guess when you own a market you just start to lose your sense of immediacy.

    Honda might have a strong sales and marketing strategy, but that does not excuse complacency in execution.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Yeah, the Taurus used to be a smart, efficient, advanced car that was technically ahead of the competition in every way. Today, it’s a giant, bloated, bubble-car, unlike the Accord which… oh, wait…

    The Accord isn’t nearly as large for it’s class as people are making it out to be. It’s large for an Accord but it’s barely bigger than a Malibu or Fusion, and few inches shy of the Camry. Given the way Mazda’s been talking, it might end up smaller than the new 6.

    It’s still pretty tight, too. I don’t know where this “floaty boat” description comes from, because it really is on-par with the Altima or Fusion, depending on tire choice. The current 6 is sportier, but no one buys it.

    The car didn’t really grow that much, but what it did do was cross the threshold into the EPA’s Full-Size class. It was more a psycological barrier than anything else; the Accord and Civic just grew into a new niches and Honda slotted a new model under the Civic to cope. And hey, if you want a mid-sized Honda, that Civic is still there.

    What does a Civic owner step up to? Certainly not an Accord.
    Probably a CRV or Oddyssey. Or a new Civic. It’s a very good car; unless you just had kids, it’s still adequate. The Accord/Camry size of car is probably a bit on an anachronism and may not be around in the near future.

    But yes, if you “moved up in the world” there’s Acura. Or rather, there should be Acura. That’s Honda’s weakness: Acura has a lot of problems most of which it shares with Volvo and Saab. Honda needs to sort that out and fast.

  • avatar
    adam0331

    Ford used to have an Accord competitor, the Taurus. Honda kept improving the Accord, and Ford milked the Taurus. The Taurus is now toast.

    Here’s one previous Taurus owner that now drives an Accord. Ford lost focus and let die the one and only car from the 2.8 that competed with the Accord & Camry in the past 20+ years.

    Mazda is now making very Honda-like cars today

    I liken Mazda to Volkswagen. They are very very good at marketing and creating an image. I’d say they are better at that than making cars. Their owners are fanatical about their cars and think they are the best thing since sliced bread, no matter what their (the car’s) failings might be.

    As improved Mazda might be, they are no Honda. Quirky cars will only take one so far. A look out the window at the parking lot reveals several Accords and Civics but very few 6’s and 3’s and not one 5 or older Mazda models. The mainstream buying public just isn’t flocking to the zoom zoom marketing.

  • avatar
    nino

    I think the size of the new Accord is being a bit exagerated. If you look at the spec sheet, you’ll find that it’s lighter than the new Malibu which is smaller on the inside.

    I also don’t get those who say that Honda is losing their way and use the Accord as the example.

    I’ve driven three new Accords in the last few weeks; a 4 cylinder EX-L sedan, a V6 LX sedan, and a full boat V6 EX-L coupe. I have to say that I was impressed by all three cars, but I was especially impressed by the 4 cylinder car. Find me a car that runs as good as that car does with the good fuel economy that car has and has an interior as good as that car that you can buy for less than $26,000, and you’ll have a hit.

    To me, that car is the secret to Honda’s success

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    For Toyota the only things you can choose is the trim level, drivetrain/engine, color, and whether you want option package A (light)or package B (loaded). Any other stuff you want is offered as dealer installed accessories.

    You can’t get much simplier then that!

    Toyota’s method of having many options to choose from isn’t very simple and certainly not user friendly online. Honda’s system is much simpler. You choose the trim level, drivetrain/engine, and color and that’s it. There are a few dealer options to select if you want (splash guards, spoilers, etc…) There is no simple package “A or B” with Toyota. You have to pick all the options seperately. Some may like it better that way, but I think it’s overly complex for many people.

    Maybe having a simpler system with fewer models is why I priced an Accord EX-L V-6 for $28,555 and a similarly equipped Camry SE V6 was $34,910.

    Of course, most people won’t notice this unless they are shopping online. Then again, they also may not know what they are missing at the lot.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    I would also add that I have seen more companies going the way of Honda. Hyundai has simplified its lineup in terms of trim levels/options. The Genesis is very easy; you choose the engine then the color and the options (there’s three options on the V6 and one option on the V8). The Sonata is simple as well.

    The Pontiac G8 is pretty simple as well. There is one screen with all available options listed. There are just a few to choose from since most things are standard.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    My wife and I have owned, over the past 18 years:

    1) 1991 Acura Integra Sedan: Bulletproof. Great mileage/handling. Stolen with 187K on the clock.

    2) 1997 Honda CR-V. Bulletproof. 130K when sold

    3) 2001 Acura 3.2TL: Bulletproof. 80K and counting…

    4) 2007 Honda Pilot: Bulletproof, but only 18K on it so far. Man, does it drink gas…

    Anyone see a pattern here?

    We also had a 1988 Ford Taurus. An absolute POS. Nothing worked, everything leaked, used up in 70K miles.

    We will ONLY buy Honda products. We’ve experienced their engineering and service for nearly 20 years, and won’t even think of going elsewhere.

    We are why Detroit is dying.

  • avatar
    cgd

    I agree about their success being due to not trying to be everything to everybody. Their slogan in the early 80s was, “Honda–we make it simple.” Amen.

    Another reason I tend to buy Hondas is that (at least where I live), the experience with the dealers is much better. They actually talk to me normally instead of in a condescending tone. This is refreshing since I’m a woman. I have actually walked onto Detroit-based *cough*GM car lots and seen salesmen twiddling their thumbs who totally ignored me. Once I was at one for 10 min, but eventually left. Needless to say, they did not “earn my business,” I believe is the annoying phrase they like to use. They need to wake up–women are involved in 80% of car sales, either singly or as part of a couple. Fortunately that seems to be changing some.

    The Honda folks have given me fair deals without the bulldozer tactics that others use. And after the sale, they actually call and ask how my experience was with the service dept., if I so much as get an oil change. They seem not to have as much turnover at this particular dealership.

    I’m not a fangirl, but just have had good experiences with Honda. Even if I were to think about buying another brand, I would probably not do it because I want service after the sale and to be treated well. I mean, who in their right mind thinks they’re going to bully or intimidate me into buying a $15-20K+ item? I don’t think so!!

  • avatar
    jaje

    @ cgd: I worked for a short time at a Honda dealer when studying for the Bar exam. I was actually quite successful as I would actually focus on the concerns of the female (yet still make sure her significant other’s questions were answered) as I knew she would have a major say in this decision. I sold 12 cars in my first full month including the dealers first S2000 which was grossly marked up but a recently divorced woman wanted some red and flashy and she loved her Hondas (and I didn’t have the repeat business). Also helps that I look like an underwear model! Well I may have slightly exaggerated the last point.

  • avatar
    cgd

    Ha! The salesman who helped me, alas, could not have modeled Calvin Klein undies, but I find the low-key, no-pressure approach refreshing, you know, like a good sense of humor. Sounds like you figured out quickly the answer to the age-old question, “What do women want?” (Uh, not to be treated like crap for those who haven’t figured this out). I wish you much success in your legal career.

    In my case, it doesn’t help that I’m a civil engineer and therefore analytical and price-conscious. Well, it helps me! I am married, but do my car deals solo and of course did so when single (though my husband is a gear-head and just got his dad a $7000-off-MSRP deal for a Nissan Frontier truck-maybe I should take him along!).

    In fact, I’m looking around right now via internet and have had one dealer already be condescending to me via e-mail! Apparently I pi$$ed him off because I dared to ask him why they bother to have an “internet sales” department yet will not give me a quote via e-mail. Isn’t the point of internet sales NOT coming in, at least until I get a price? Two other dealers have given me quotes via e-mail. Do they not understand that I have money and a choice here?! I vote with my wallet, which I have the luxury of doing, esp. in this market.

    So I’m back to Honda, with their fair deals and service after the sale. Even if I got this other dealer (to be fair, not a Detroit-based one this time) to give me a deal, I’d have to deal with them for service, not a pleasant thought.

  • avatar
    thoots

    I have to laugh at the hand-wringing whining about “option lists.” Crimony. Have we morons who can’t figure out what they want in a car??

    I see Honda more as putting a lot of fully-featured cars on their lots — just buy the “loaded” version, and Honda will be glad to take your money for all of the extras, whether you wanted them or not.

    I’ll also second the mention of shoddy, shoddy, shoddy interior build quality — I’ll never touch another Honda given the horror story Accord I had to bail out of because it was such a rattletrap POS.

    Enough of that, though — I think the coming challenges for Honda, at least in the US market, will be the insanely putrid, horrifying “styling” they have been inflicting upon new models — every new model they introduce seems to be taking a bigger swing at out-uglying the all-time-leading Aztek.

    And, the other challenge will be the cobbled-together five-speed automatic transmission that they’ll barely keep running by slapping band-aids on it. While other manufacturers are offering six speeds and beyond, Honda is still trying to get its five-speed to last with any of its V6 engines, by means of the afore-mentioned band-aid slapping. Just Google for “honda transmission jet kit,” and you’ll begin to comprehend your chances of the transmission outliving the water pump in your precious new Honda.

    Honda built itself quite a reputation in the past, but I see chunks falling off the wings as we fly into the twenty-first century. Just watch Hyundai/Kia eat Honda’s lunch — just watch.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Honda sees wisdom in having a fairly uncomplicated product line, this from a company whose tagline used to be, “We make it simple.”

    I’m reminded of a passage I read 25 years ago in Brock Yates’ opus, The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry: “A Yale physicist whimsically calculated that a 1965 Chevrolet, offered in 46 models, 32 different engines, 20 transmissions, 30 colors, and 400 options, could be purchased in almost as many permutations as there are atoms in the universe.”

    For the domestics, things still haven’t changed much in the past 40 years.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Trick when email the “internet sales departments” – make sure your email goes to at least 3-4 dealers all in the “To:” line. That incites competition b/c they now know you are not simply emailing only that dealer.

    I normally do that method when I bought new – but as of late I just don’t see it in my to buy a new car sans maybe the newer and more powerful WRX hatchback with 265hp (a pretty good deal). My wife’s TSX is doing just fine and is great to drive – even when I am making her take high performance driving lessons (got it for her bday).

  • avatar
    carsinamerica

    @ TexasAg03:

    Toyota’s method of having many options to choose from isn’t very simple and certainly not user friendly online. Honda’s system is much simpler. You choose the trim level, drivetrain/engine, and color and that’s it. There are a few dealer options to select if you want (splash guards, spoilers, etc…) There is no simple package “A or B” with Toyota. You have to pick all the options seperately. Some may like it better that way, but I think it’s overly complex for many people.

    Not quite true. In a Chevy or (especially) Ford, you have to pick options separately, leaving millions upon millions of permutations, many of which are built.

    In a Toyota, options are bundled together into packages. It doesn’t show on the window sticker, but that’s how Toyota does it. This is arranged in advance with the dealer network, and done regionally: they decide what options will be desirable, bundle them into 7 or 8 combinations, and then factory builds those. Example: I bought an ’09 Corolla in April. I wanted stability/traction control; that was a non-negotiable point. VSC was a midrange option (not an option like power locks and keyless, that one could find as the only option set on the car), so the package that it came in also included: keyless entry, power windows, 6-disc CD changer, floor mats, all-weather guard pkg. (added to all Midwestern Corollas), and cruise control. So, that’s a bundled package. It doesn’t look like that from reading the options list at ConsumerGuide and the like, but that is how you would find them on dealer lots.

    Toyota would build one for you with a single option, but you’d probably have to pay sticker, and you’d have to wait a month or two, according to my dealer, so I could have had a base Corolla S with just VSC if I’d really pushed the point, but I probably got a better deal in the end by buying into the package (and I wanted the power windows, cruise, and floor mats, too, anyway, and the CD changer is great), since I negotiated a fair chunk off the sticker.

    As a note, I understand Honda’s simplified trim level system, but it does make it hard to get some features. Up through ’08, you could not buy a Civic (except the Si) with stability/traction control. Now I guess it’ll be available on EX-Ls or something. You can’t get a CD changer, full stop. Does everyone want/need these? No, but some customers do. It gets a bit ridiculous with a limited trim selection; you take a massive bump in price. There’s a $2k gap between the DX and LX, and the DX has no radio AT ALL, no A/C, etc., etc. So if A/C were non-negotiable, and in most of the country it can be pretty important, you just paid $2,000 to get it, because you had to buy an LX. It’s another $1,800 from the LX to the EX. The EX adds a moonroof, and then a bunch of auxiliary things that 50% of people will never notice (like an extra set of cupholders for the back, an extra power outlet, and a SPLIT-folding bench seat. What if I like the LX, but really want a moonroof? I just paid two grand extra.

    I’m sure it’s simpler for Honda’s dealer network, but Toyota manages well, and probably gets extra sales volume, because with six or seven informal “packages” of options, people can find what they want without being driven all the way to the most expensive trim level. I’m sure that Honda makes some extra cash by up-selling trim levels, but I also know they probably lose customers that way. The lack of optional stability control on the Civic was one of the main reasons I sprang for the Corolla instead, since they’re both very impressive cars.

    Honda counters this by proliferating trim levels. As of 2009, for sedans they’ve got:
    DX
    DX-VP
    LX
    LX-S
    EX
    EX-L
    Si
    Mugen Si
    Hybrid
    GX

    In its way, that’s got to be pretty complicated, too.
    the

  • avatar
    James2

    Adam0331,

    You’re looking out the wrong window. Here in Hawaii I see plenty of Mazdas. In fact I see more 6s than new Accords. I’m starting to see a lot more 5s as well. Of course I see my 6 every day. :-)

  • avatar
    highrpm

    Big Honda fanboy here. I used race an Integra GS-R in SCCA. Anyway, as a buyer of lightly used cars, I’ve found that the best deals out there now are in the domestic world.

    Take three year old minivans for example. A base level Odyssey isn’t much cheaper than a new Odyssey, while a three-year-old base level Crysler minivan can be found for $9000 at least here in Detroit. For the price of one used Odyssey, I could pick up nearly two used Chrysler minivans from the same year!

    Same with the Civics and Accords. Boy are the used ones expensive. Three year old Civics are basically selling at new car prices around here. Heck, I could buy a three-year-old BMW 3 series for almost the same money!

  • avatar
    adam0331

    I’ll also second the mention of shoddy, shoddy, shoddy interior build quality — I’ll never touch another Honda given the horror story Accord I had to bail out of because it was such a rattletrap POS.

    A very good mechanic friend has a good line for when people say things such as, “I’ve heard a lot of people have problems with that model.” He’d mention that Honda builds close to 400k Accords every year and have been for over a decade. There are millions of them on the road. Of course a couple here and there won’t be perfect. By no means should Honda get a pass on a less than stellar unit, but it’s not indicitive of the entire fleet.

    Case in point, I drove a 1990 Taurus to 200k with no more work than a water pump and standard maintenance. Someone up thread called theirs a POS. I won’t touch VW with a ten foot pole because of their problems but anytime their quality issues are brought up someone mentions their high mile VW’s. There’s good and bad units in any model run, but Honda has consistently had more of the good ones than most other companies and that’s what counts.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    menno: I know it’s surprising to hear this, but SUZUKI are the #1 automotive brand in not only JAPAN, but also in INDIA (with partner, Maruti).

    Yes, Toyota is not even #1 in their own nation, for new vehicle sales, and this has been the case for some while.

    “Surprising” because not true. Don’t know where you go your info Menno, but you are quite wrong — Toyota’s easily number one and far outsells Suzuki in Japan.

    Among regular cars Toyota owns nearly half the market while Suzuki is tiny #6, with Toyota outselling Suzuki nearly 20-to-1.

    Suzuki is a major supplier in mini-vehicle Kei-cars (which are not counted in this article’s numbers) but Toyota is #1 this year even there, with its Daihatsu brand outselling Suzuki.

    Counting all the vehicles together the Toyota BRAND outsells Suzuki almost 3-1 and the Toyota company including Daihatsu outsells Suzuki 4-1.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    And BTW, *if* you fold together regular cars and kei cars, Honda, Nissan, and Suzuki are all almost in a 3-way tie for 2nd in the Japan market. Which one’s ahead depends on which specific time period you look at.

  • avatar

    Honda’s manufacturing efficiency (via fewer trim-levels of each model) also deserves credit for translating into better pricing for the consumer.

    Case in point: My fully loaded ’04 TL. MSRP was $33,200, plus $2k for the Nav. The comparable G35 was pushing $38k back then, the ES330 was $37k+, nevermind a comparably equipped 325i, let alone a comparably engined 330i, or a comparably sized 530i. Even the S60 was more expensive and offered fewer features.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    In a Toyota, options are bundled together into packages. It doesn’t show on the window sticker, but that’s how Toyota does it. This is arranged in advance with the dealer network, and done regionally: they decide what options will be desirable, bundle them into 7 or 8 combinations, and then factory builds those.

    That should be reflected in the “Build Your Toyota” module online. If you build a car there, it may not be possible to find that configuration in your area. To me that is not user friendly and certainly not simple.

    I agree with you about the Chevy and Ford methods; they are ridiculous.

  • avatar
    kken71

    The simplicity of Honda’s 3 trim levels for the Odyssey as compared to all the options available on the Sienna led me to not even bother test driving the Toyota before buying the Honda.

    That, and Honda dealers’ apparent fixation on volume, also makes it easy to get five or six “internet price quotes” from edmunds or cars.com, get the lowest possible price, and have any dealer match it.

  • avatar
    thoots

    adam0331 says:

    A very good mechanic friend has a good line for when people say things such as, “I’ve heard a lot of people have problems with that model.” He’d mention that Honda builds close to 400k Accords every year and have been for over a decade. There are millions of them on the road. Of course a couple here and there won’t be perfect. By no means should Honda get a pass on a less than stellar unit, but it’s not indicitive of the entire fleet.

    Could be. On the other hand, I’d simply call it lousy, ineffective, inconsistent and/or nonexistent quality control.

  • avatar
    geeber

    thoots,

    I have a 2003 Accord EX sedan (four cylinder) that I bought brand-new in May 2003.

    There have been some interior rattles present since it was new.

    Interestingly, after 98,000+ miles over Pennsylvania’s less-than-stellar roads, the car has no more rattles than it did since day one.

    And the rest of the car has been bulletproof – far more so than my friend’s 2002 Nissan Altima and another friend’s 2001 VW Passat (since dumped for a Subaru).

  • avatar
    willbodine

    I can’t explain why or how, but for me, for some unexplained reason, I am very impressed whenever I see a new Accord, both coupe and sedan. Has so much gravitas, it could be German.

  • avatar
    ex-dtw

    @Geeber,

    Day-one rattles are case in point. Cars should have 0 rattles day one. It is great that you have had no new rattles, but this is a clear indication of great engineering, crappy quality control.

    Also, I think I might have started the shoddy interior side-topic and I completely defend it. As a counterpoint to an earlier post, it is not about millions of vehicles on the road.

    I sat in numerous 2008 Odyssey’s before I took delivery and they ALL displayed the same crappy attention to detail. The lower glove box in all of them displayed varying amounts of excessive curve in relation to dash. Not incluing plug screws, excessive molding flash, and on and on.

    Honda owns the minivan market and it is evident in how they don’t focus on the little details that finish a car. And this is comparison again to my experience in a 2001 Prelude, which did by the way develop numerous rattles over the years.

  • avatar
    poltergeist

    carsinamerica :

    Most of the options you list are easily added with dealer installed Honda accessories. Want a CD changer in a Civic?…no problemo. Radio and AC in an ’08 Civic DX?…no problemo. Of course it’ll usually end up cheaper to buy the higher trim level, but I think that would hold true for most manufacturers.

    And FWIW the ’09 Civic DX now comes standard with AC and radio.

  • avatar
    geeber

    ex-dtw,

    Yes, the rattles are annoying. On the other hand, considering the experiences of my friends who have Nissans, VWs and various GM cars, I can live with a few rattles.

  • avatar

    I like Honda’s emphasis on MPG not because it makes a huge difference in my cost of fuel, but because it speaks to a passion for good engineering. I do wish they still made the Integra (I’d probably buy one), and the TSX just doesn’t do it for me. Competent, but too heavy, and it doesn’t tempt me out of my ’99 Accord.

    I don’ t like the way the CRV has grown, and it’s too bad they canned the CRX.

  • avatar
    allen5h

    FWIW, my 2001 4 door accord is rattle free after over 100k miles :-)

    (I fixed the only rattle by wedging a thin scrap piece of wood between a door’s internal horizontal pipe and the door’s exterior sheet metal. Honda did not apply sufficient amounts of “glue” to keep this sheet metal from rattling in the wind.)

    I like Honda, I am a happy Honda customer, and I want to keep buying Honda. What will I replace my 2001 Accord with? The new Accords are now far too big for me. The Civic is too small and I don’t care for the Star Trek thing. Honda has lost its way; they have abandoned the mid-sized segment.

    What rule book says that every new generation (of cars) has to be bigger-assed?

    My buying options are very limited. I don’t want to buy an Altima because of the issues that Nissan customers are having at their dealers in my local area, but I may have to bite the bullet on this one.

  • avatar
    poweredByHonda

    Trim levels and bundled options

    Either of these 2 methods allow the manufacturers to ease the assembly processes of their vehicules. Without having a choose at will, one option at a time list, it simplifies the assembly of the vehicule, and reduces chances of errors.

    NA manufacturers let you choose at will basically, one option at a time. Imagine the complexity at the assembly with several million combinations of options for each vehicule as it makes its way down the assembly chain?

    With a specific trim level, the combinations are vastly reduced. This allows for improved quality of assembly, and vastly reduces the risks of errors… (like forgetting to install that one option of the tape player in a high end Cadillac SUV and not catching the error until the SUV is delivered to the customer…. now will this customer be happy after spending a good bundle on his truck???)

    Quality of assembly can also be affected, if a specific option is not installed often, by the line assemblers. Will he / she remember how to install it? Will it be done properly? yes, there are inspectors further down the line… but why inspect it, if it can be done right the first time…. inspection is a waste process, which can be eliminated if assembly is done right….

    With the set trim levels, or set bundles, it reduces the complexity for the manufacturers, and improves quality of assembly, which leads to improved quality of the vehicules..

  • avatar
    Nemphre

    “What will I replace my 2001 Accord with? The new Accords are now far too big for me. The Civic is too small and I don’t care for the Star Trek thing.”

    Wait for the ’11 Civic. It will probably be just as big as your Accord.

    “I like Honda’s emphasis on MPG not because it makes a huge difference in my cost of fuel, but because it speaks to a passion for good engineering.”

    I thought so too until I saw the fuel economy for the 09 Fit with a manual.

    “And FWIW the ‘09 Civic DX now comes standard with AC and radio.”

    It’s on the new DX-VP trim level. It costs 700 more than the DX, and 1200 less than the LX. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the sedan, which for 09 has a gag inducing chrome bar between the tail lights. The chrome door handles on the new Accord were bad enough. Please Honda, spare us this garish nonsense. I want to love you but you make it so hard sometimes.

  • avatar
    ethermal

    In my eyes, Hondas current line up in terms of where the competition sits right now is the weakest it has been in nearly 20 years. Yet they are doing the best they have ever done. So perhaps there is some undercurrents that are starting to take shape. I think right now Honda needs to take the next revision of the civic very seriously and they need to drop the polarizing styling in the current civic. The competition is getting very fierce. The mazda3 is a prime example of how honda can’t sit back and just ride on cruise control.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Axel

    What does a Civic owner step up to?

    An Si?

    The civic is a pretty reasonably sized car (it has the longest wheelbase of the compacts), so maybe it can cover both the compact and smaller-medium classes.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    when you take your middle finger and can`t stick it in between any panels within or out of honda Accord, when you close the door with smacking tasty sound and being inside can`t hear your dog or wife barking outside, when the hood of your accord grows over with spiderwebs and you can`t remember where the hood release handle is, know this is the answer , the real answer to Hondas success.


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