At least in the insular world of the automotive media, 2010 may well go down as “The Year Honda Lost Its Mojo.” The Motor Company’s first 2010 model-year launch, the Accord Crosstour failed to get off the ground last year, and the much-hyped CR-Z hybrid coupe launched to thoroughly mixed reviews. In fact, the new 2011 Odyssey seems to be Honda’s first big new launch in the US since the latest Accord debuted in 2008, although it’s not clear how many of the Oddy’s 10,147 December sales were leftover 2010 models. And after Acura’s 2009 model-year beak-ification, Honda’s luxury division launched only one new model, the ZDX, which sold a paltry 3,259 units last year. In short, Honda seems to have pulled off only one legitimate hit in its last five launches (including 2009’s Insight flop)… but unlike some other automakers, the big H isn’t dependent on novelty to move metal. Underneath Honda’s string of missteps are some fairly sound fundamentals… as well as signs that change needs to happen soon.
Why isn’t Honda dependent on its niche product launches to goose volume? That’s easy: Civic and Accord are a bedrock of volume for the Japanese automaker, and with strong growth in the compact crossover segment, the CR-V looks poised to join them as reliable sources of six-figure sales numbers. But even these core models are showing some signs of trouble. Honda claims Accord volume rose eight percent last year, but if you treat the Crosstour as a separate model, Accord volume actually fell 1.7%. And it’s no wonder Honda chooses to present the numbers that way: on its own, the Crosstour managed only 28,851 units last year.
The aging Civic saw a similarly flat year, with volume rising just .2% to 260,218 units. But again, Honda’s official reckoning is misleading, as it claims a .8% improvement (likely due to sales of 7,736 outgoing Civic Hybrid models). We’re used to this kind of number goosing from other automakers, but not Honda… and it underlines the fact that Honda knows 2010 was not a great year. And speaking of Civic Hybrid, the Insight that replaced it continues to be an unqualified disappointment, moving only 20,962 units, only 5,483 units more than the Civic Hybrid sold in 2009.
Luckily, Honda had a decent supporting cast of six-figure sellers in 2010, led by CR-V which moved 203,714 units last year, a 7.2% improvement over last year. Odyssey added 108,182 units, an 8.7% bump, and Pilot moved 102,323 units, a 22.8% improvement. Ridgeline and Element combined for just over 30k units. On the other hand, Fit fell 18.7% to 54,354 units and CR-Z sold only 5,249 examples. This meant that, as a whole, Honda-branded cars were down 1.3%, while Honda’s “light trucks” were up 16.5%. Still, Honda sold about 16k more cars than light trucks last year.
Acura also sold more cars than trucks in 2010… but the margin was only 129 units. TL sold 34,049 units, a 1.3% bump, while TSX sold 32,076, a 12% increase. RL continued to be a non-player at 2,037 units for the year, a six unit drop compared to 2009. MDX took Acura’s volume crown, moving 47,210 units, a 51.4% increase. RDX sold only 14,975 units, a 47.5% increase. As noted earlier, ZDX sold only 3,259 units and doesn’t seem to be gaining momentum: December sales were an anemic 253 units.
Taken together, it’s clear that Honda was ready to put 2010 behind them. With a new Civic launching next year, the firm is clearly hoping its core model sees a big enough bump to keep up with the market. After all, branching out into new segments certainly hasn’t been paying off of late for Honda. But there’s a (nearly unbelievable) silver lining to this raft of middling-to-bad news: Though the Honda brand lost .2% retail market share, Acura gained back the same amount, meaning that the firm’s overall retail market share stayed put at 12.9%. Honda may not be thriving, but (at least in the eyes of consumers) they’re surviving.