Honda has been getting flack on these pages for some time now for succumbing to size and weight bloating, a criticism that carries a special sting for an automaker that clawed its way into the mainstream by offering inexpensive, efficient models. And it seems that a little bashing may have helped. Automotive News [sub] reports that Honda has “torn up” its old product plan, and is refocusing on less expensive, more fuel-efficient offerings.Honda CEO Takanobu Ito explains:
We are taking more time to rethink the new Civic and all our models. We had to revisit our development work and planning to comply with the change in the environment
And Ito isn’t referring to changes in the polar icecap either, but rather to the post-credit crisis consumer environment. Prior to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Ito says Honda was developing a V8, an RWD platform and a larger successor to the Civic. Now it seems that the financial crisis that has been blamed for everything from declining sales to the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler is yielding the kind of results that a decade of plenty couldn’t.
Not that changing the focus of product development is entirely without its challenges. “The team is struggling,” admits Ito. “We are injecting more manpower to meet our target.” Especially because Honda isn’t trying to become Kia. Well, old Kia.
The easiest option would be to make products cheaper, but we have to not only cut the price but also maintain the highest quality. This applies to all models, but the biggest is the world Civic.
The Civic strategy is not likely to yield a complete return to form. After all, a true return to old-school Civic values would leave the Fit without a reason to live. Instead the plan is to increase the perception of roominess without increasing the size. And, presumably, without increasing weight. These changes should ripple down to Civic-based vehicles like the CR-V, and the (thus-far) JDM-only Stream minivan. Hybrid technology will also proliferate across a greater portion of its vehicle range, and Honda will move into electric offerings, despite early resistance to the trend. Does this mean we’ll see a real return to Honda’s roots with a new-age 600 along the lines of the EV-N? Probably not. Still, this is an indication that Honda is headed back towards the values that made it a major player.