By on January 4, 2012

Bucking the wisdom of nearly every automotive journalist alive, Canadians opted for the much-maligned 2012 Honda Civic in 2012. 55,090 Civics were purchased by Canadians, making it the best selling passenger car for the 14th straight year.

According to our most recent data from Automotive News, as well as Honda Canada itself (with Automotive News tracking sales through November, 2011), the top 10 vehicles were all compacts, with the exception of the Toyota Camry. As of this writing, the Hyundai Elantra finished in second place, despite leading briefly earlier in the year. The prospect of a revised Civic for the 2013 model year wasn’t enough to put a damper on sales – or maybe people just weren’t interested.

In the run up to year’s end, Honda touted  very aggressive lease deals, including zero down, 0.9 percent lease deals that made it possible to walk away with a Civic LX equipped with A/C and an automatic transmission for $215 per month for 48 months (including 13 percent sales tax). A quick peek at the Honda website now shows the lease rate back at 2.99 percent, suggesting these blowout deals were related to the drive to be Canada’s best selling car yet again.

On a broader scale, he strong performance of the Civic in Canada and the Volkswagen Jetta in both Canada and the United States reaffirms the notion that despite the massive criticism leveled at both cars, a given segment of consumers couldn’t care less about things like missing independent suspensions, or poor reviews from critics. Instead, a cheap price and a heuristically advanced notion of quality (“Volkswagen/Honda is a good make, isn’t it?”) can go much further than independent suspensions and dual clutch gearboxes when it comes to moving units. Being labeled a “flop” by Forbes or being stripped of its “recommended” rating by Consumer Reports seems to have done dick all for the Jetta and Civic respectively.

 

 

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58 Comments on “Honda Civic Is Canada’s Best Selling Car, Critics Be Damned...”


  • avatar
    Pch101

    Honda’s decision to accelerate the refresh suggests that the critics have been onto something.

    And relying upon subsidized leases in order to move metal that is priced well below a BMW is entirely too familiar. When done to excess, that strategy spells B-A-N-K-R-U-P-T-C-Y.

    Honda deserves credit for recognizing that changes need to be made. Short-term sales figures shouldn’t be used to conceal what could become long-term branding problems if left unattended.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Where are these subsidized leases on Civics? I see ads pretty often for other makes that range from $77(Fiesta) to $169 a month, but I have yet to see Honda advertising that emphasizes price. Honda’s caught out by ignorance and dishonesty on the part of what passes for the automotive press at the moment. People who want appliance cars aren’t well served by short lived transmissions or high maintenance injection systems. Honda didn’t sell out their customers, but the shills in press are forcing their hand.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Where are these subsidized leases on Civics?

        Recently, Civic LX automatics in the US were being offered with no money down/ 3 year leases at $230 per month. If this article is correct, then something similar is also being offered in Canada.

        Honda incentives are still below industry averages but are several hundred dollars higher than they used to be. Meanwhile, Hyundai and VW are doing a better job of moving units at retail, while the Corolla remains a formidable rival.

        This is no time to be making excuses. Honda can’t afford to lose branding power in a space in which it has been one of two 300-pound gorillas (the other being the Corolla.)

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I found the promotion. I also found that Hyundai’s national website advertises Elantra leases for $179 a month with $1,820 down. The total of payments for the Honda comes to $8,050. The total for the Hyundai is $8,085. Which one will have the better residual value determines which one will leave the manufacturer in better shape. Honda specifies a purchase option of $12,043.50 while Hyundai says the residual is negotiated at the time of purchase. The programs seem comparable. If Hyundai is flying high, why is Honda at death’s door for having a comparable sales promotion?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        If Hyundai is flying high, why is Honda at death’s door for having a comparable sales promotion?

        The two companies are in different positions. Hyundai is an up-and-comer, working to build share. Honda is an established player that uses branding power to demand relatively high premiums.

        As one of the class leaders, Honda can only go down. It has to protect its turf; its pricing power and quality image are critical to its profitability. Meanwhile, Hyundai has the benefit of being operated by a large conglomerate that can afford to constantly attack Honda’s positions. This is not a trivial business problem for Honda over the medium term.

        Honda has to find a way to keep and grow share while maintaining its margins, simultaneously. Since the US market is mature, sales can only be increased if they are taken away from a competitor. Without leading edge product, that will not be easy. Unlike Toyota, Honda also lacks a strong luxury brand that could generate even more margin from existing R&D, which places a ceiling on its revenue potential.

        And Honda is too small to survive the next wave of consolidation, assuming that there is one. Honda is in decent shape now, but within 20-30 years, it faces the risk of being acquired or marginalized. The relatively low presence in emerging markets compounds the problem.

        They can fix this issue with the current model Civic easily enough — a bit of tweaking should suffice. But over the long haul, they need to make sure that they become more like Volkswagen and Toyota, not Saab or Isuzu. The industry is going through a period of flux, and the decisions made today could have implications for many years to come.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        As a long-time Honda owner, I find the new Civic to be a disappointment in terms of interior quality. Ironically, exterior fit-and-finish is improved over the prior version, but the cheap interior plastics and carpet are simply not competitive with the new Focus or even the Cruze.

        Pch101 is correct; Honda, for whatever reason, dropped the ball with this car, and needs to correct this as fast as possible. Using cheap lease deals to maintain the top sales position – particularly with an all-new car – is not a good sign.

        Fortunately, if what insiders on the website Temple of Vtec are saying is true, the bad reviews, particularly by Consumer Reports, have rocked the company. I certainly hope that this is true.

    • 0 avatar
      PJ McCombs

      Hopefully this news doesn’t make Honda or VW too comfortable. There’s a long lead time before consumer perceptions change, and that’s a double edged sword. It may take a while for sales of your well-known model to drop off, but if a negative perception takes hold, it’ll be a long crawl back, even after the product is improved.

      (Very) rough analogy: Oldsmobile sold a lot of Cutlass Cieras in the ’80s, too, but damned if they could sell an Intrigue or Alero in the ’00s. I can’t see Honda or VW taking that long to get spooked into action.

      • 0 avatar
        sckid213

        I can only speak for myself and the world I see, but I think general consumer perceptions have already begun to change when it comes to Honda. I’m 28, and many of my peers are coming out of older Hondas and going Korean (Elantra, Sonata, Optima), VW (New Jetta, as much as I hate it), American (mostly Ford), or moving up to near-luxury cars (but not Acura). Lots of talk like “Remember when Honda used to be cool? Remember how we used to rice them out and they made cool cars like the Prelude, the S2000? Remember when they weren’t fugly looking?”

        The great majority of my non-enthusiast friends find Hondas to be quite overpriced today. Honda’s not justifying the price premium with great style, that’s for sure. And sure Hondas are reliable, but the quality and reliability gap has narrowed so much over the past ten years that I don’t think people are willing to pay a premium for “Honda quality and reliability” anymore. Especially when cross-shopping cars and comparing the chintzy new Civic interior with the more stylish interior of the Elantra or the higher-quality interior of the Focus.

        When I was in high school in the late ’90s, I remember looking at Cutlass Cieras and thinking about how old-school (in a bad way) and out of style they were, and how only old people drove them. NOBODY who was hip to anything thought about buying a new Oldsmobile in 1999. Strange to say, I see Honda slowly going down the same path. Honda U.S. Sales down 20% in December and 7% for the year in 2011 tells me I might not be imagining all this…

      • 0 avatar
        PJ McCombs

        I’m 29 and have much the same impression. Friends and I grew up reading about VTEC Preludes, NSXs, etc and drooling over JDM Hondas in Gran Turismo. The lucky ones in high school had CRXs or EK Civics. By the time I could afford one, Honda was making EP Civics.

        At least Mazda’s picked up the fun-to-drive cause, but they don’t have the high-tech edge that gave Honda so much ‘buzz’ in the 90s.

        Naturally Honda couldn’t afford to cater to a young audience that wasn’t driving or couldn’t afford new cars–but it has been sad to watch an exciting brand go downhill just as a generation reaches the point that it could’ve bought into it.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        “Hopefully this news doesn’t make Honda or VW too comfortable. There’s a long lead time before consumer perceptions change”

        You’re probably right for top-selling brands like Toyota and Honda, whose quality and core attributes seem to have declined. I don’t think this applies to VW, though. Their sales volume was low, and went up significantly with the launch of the MkVI Jetta that the auto press has been so hard on. Consumer perception changed very rapidly with that car.

        What will be interesting to see is if VW’s reliability is improved, and if so, how long it will take before the general public and commenters on websites like TTAC recognize that. That is a perception that will take a long time to change.

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      Anecdotally speaking, here in the Toronto area, Civics seem to be the #1 cause of deaths for the 16-24 age group too. Sheer numbers would partly explain that, but I suspect the size and strength of the things also factor in.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        Trying to analyze the relative safety of vehicles by death and injury rates is very difficult, as driver demographics and use patterns are far bigger factors than vehicle design.

        Things like convertibles having lower death/injury rates than the same car with a roof, and mechanical twins having substantially different rates, are common.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The Honda still has 4 wheel independent suspension, although at least one of its lauded rivals has a beam in the back. Does anyone think of Volkswagen as a maker of quality cars? Does the Civic actually lack in quality? They are still delivered defect free and ready to perform the functions of a small sedan for years without fail.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Most of Civic’s rivals have an axle in the back (Jetta, Elantra, Corolla, Cruze). Mazda3 and Focus have IRS.

      Many Civics (and Corollas) are purchased by default. Need car = buy Civic. It almost doesn’t matter what it looks like or how it drives. If Honda wants to save money, they could probably ditch the IRS and go with a beam axle (the European Civic has it) and use the saved money to fix the interior. Juggling spring and damping rates and recalibrating the power steering is almost free at the OEM level. Probably end up being a better deal overall …

      • 0 avatar
        spyked

        Yep, the Jetta, despite it’s unrefined rear end, still drives waaaaaay better at speed than any car south of $30k has a right too. Honda’s IRS has never helped it feel planted and stable. Ditch the IRS (if it really costs THAT much money) and recycle a dash from your cars, pre-06 Civic.

        The Civic doesn’t need to be tech advanced, but what’s worse is that the “design” writes checks that the mechanicals can’t cash. What’s wrong with a simple/no frills car like the new Jetta? Nothing…thats why it sells.

      • 0 avatar
        webleyx

        @Spyked
        I have no experience with the plain Civic, but I have a 2008 Civic Si. I didn’t know what a suspension could do on a car before I got this thing. There is a road much unused that twists like a snake through the mountains near me. A secondary which see’s little traffic.

        In a moment of poor judgement I decided to see what this car could do. I easily took tight corners rated at 60 kph at 118kph. Nearly damn double! No tire shriek etc, it may have gone even faster but I chickened out. How much more “planted” does a car need to feel? I am no race pro or any of that self deluding nonsense, I merely pointed the nose where I wanted it to go. I am sure if my brother had attempted to keep up with me in his much faster Mustang V8 I would have wound up trying to pull his body from the flaming wreckage.

        Credit where credit is due!

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Does anyone think of Volswagen as a maker of quality cars?

      Yes – judging by annual sales a couple of million more buyers per year choose VW over Honda.

      And this article would be much more informative if it showed that sales of Civics in Canada are declining quite significantly, though they are obviously still quite strong.

      Hyundai and the new Jettas are certainly taking market share from Honda in Canada.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      “The Honda still has 4 wheel independent suspension”

      An irrelevant waste of money for the average consumer of this segment. The new Jetta was criticized for dropping IRS, but even the harshest reviews could not find fault in the way the suspension performs in that car. Didn’t make a difference in the way it drove. Same with the rear drum brakes; the new Jetta stops shorter than the MkV with the 4-wheel discs. I own a 4-wheel disc MkV and I can tell you the brakes are mediocre at best.

      “Does the Civic actually lack in quality?”

      Depends on your criteria. Civic interiors used to be nice, well constructed. This new one looks & feels extremely cheap. Civics used to be known for sharp & responsive steering, and reviewers say that has been badly dialed back. It has no styling character; that backend is a carbon copy of the 2002-2004 Camry. It may still be extremely reliable, efficient, and competent, but this has never saved the Corolla from “enthusiast” criticism. This new Civic is more like the Corolla than any before it. So if this crowd is going to criticize the Corolla for being a bland, characterless appliance, the Civic is now treading in those waters.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Does anyone think of Volkswagen as a maker of quality cars?

      Depends what you mean by quality. Is a Golf TDI higher quality in terms of interior fit and finish, driving dynamics, NVH than a Civic – I think most people would say yes.

  • avatar
    mjal

    And the Chevy Cruze 1LT was just rated by Consumer Reports as the worst value among small sedans.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      And guess where the Civic is made?

      Ask Jack Baruth how many Hondas rule the road in north Columbus with a couple of facilities nearby?

      Between KBB and CR’s data reflecting lower volume sellers it’s got to make you wonder who maybe in their pocket?

  • avatar
    spyked

    CJinSD:

    Your point is proven by the fact that a VW Rabbit/Golf with 5 cylinder and traditional 6A is uber-reliable and the GTI is not. Difference between the two? A DSG transmission and a DI engine.

    I too think Honda is dumb to chase high-end or early-adopter buyers. Hondas are just the SE version of Toyotas. And that’s fine.

    Leave the DSG transmissions and DI engines to the manufacturers whose buyers want that stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Honda have already announced that they will be switching over to DI engines over the next couple of years … and they’ll be switching their automatic transmissions over to CVT.

      The DI engine is good if it is done correctly (perhaps Honda have spent the last couple of years doing research and proving it out), but the CVT idea is a fail – not that a Honda automatic transmission wasn’t already a fail in progress anyways.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      I too think Honda is dumb to chase high-end or early-adopter buyers.

      Spoken like a retired GM executive.

  • avatar
    AGR

    Civic sales in Canada

    2008: 72,463
    2009: 62,654
    2010: 57,501
    2011: 55,090

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      Even though the Civic might still (barely) be the best selling car in Canada, this trajectory has to be a bit worrying for Honda.

      The Civic still has a good name because it was the class benchmark for the past 30 years or so – and so plenty of people still buy it based on its past reputation. Honda also seems to be doing whatever it takes to hold onto it’s “number one in Canada” distinction – in addition to cheap financing deals, I’ve been seeing Civics in the rental fleets around here, which is something I’ve never seen in Canada before last year.

      Articles like this one (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/new-cars/reviews/honda-civic-spins-its-wheels-while-rivals-zoom-ahead/article2221082/) from “Canada’s National Newspaper” might convince at least some prospective Civic buyers to consider a Focus, Cruze, Elantra, or (soon) Dart instead.

      Honda has good reason to be worried, it will be interesting to see if the 2013 refresh makes the Civic at least class competitive again…

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        Not to worry: not one of the 4 women in my office (all driving Mazda, Honda, a beat up Corolla and one poor sucker who has to takes transit!) read the Globe & Mail. In fact, one slow afternoon last summer a ‘discussion’ broke out when the Mazda driver declared that the ‘imports’ were doing better than American manufacturers. Somehow, these towers of intellect had made the jump from “#1 selling car in Canada,” to “#1 manufacturer, period.” It took my producing several different sources to bear out the fact that The Big Three are, in fact, still the Big Three in North America, with Toyota and Honda next (south of the border anyway) and Hyundai nipping at their heels. (Hmm, pun not intended.)
        I can’t wait to produce DesRosiers and Wards Auto’s 2011 sales figures and poster the walls in the office with the charts.
        The media has spent the last 30 years pounding Detroit into the ground, and it would seem the media has succeeded. Truly, Toyotas and Hondas are for people who do not like cars and view vehicle ownership as a necessary evil. They have to be told what to buy, or they are still living out some bizarre revenge fantasy for the Fairmont or Citation they once owned 30 years ago.
        Toyota and Honda imploding in Canada has little to do with anything Japan Inc has done, and everything to do with the jaded media turning on their former darlings like a pack of rabid wolves, and fawning over every piece of metal to fall out of Korea these days.
        When I bother to read a vehicle test drive article in the mainstream press, I always get a chuckle when they carry on about ‘overhangs’ and lack of soft dashboard plastics, blah, blah, blah.
        Grocery getters that must do .95 on the skidpad. Minivans that must do 0-60 in 6 seconds or less. “Benchmark” this, “class leading” that… who makes up this crap? AWD mandatory on all vehicle lines, or the entire car company is a loser.
        Few things on this planet draw such divisive opinions as the automobile. Even folks who can’t tell a push rod from a tie rod will have an opinion.

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

        The media had nothing to do with my switch from Government Motors to Toyota. I don’t read CR, CU, WA, JDP or Toiletpaper weekly. It was both of my POC trucks and the inept service dept. that was either “Unable to reproduce” or just flat out lied and told me “They’re supposed to do that”.

        Yes, breaking down on the side of the road with a blown transmission is normal.

        Having a steering wheel knock like popcorn is normal

        Having my engine sound like a clattering diesel is normal

        Idiots. Maybe instead of reading all these magazines, they should have been working on fixing my problems instead of ignoring them.

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Honda is No. 1, surpassing Toyota, in recalls for 2011. The word is out to consumers.

      http://www.autoblog.com/2012/01/10/airbag-recall-forces-honda-past-toyota-in-total-recalls-for-2012/

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    The objectivity of this post made me think that BGR had branched out to cars for a moment.

  • avatar
    deanst

    The article should be changed to indicate a reference to top CAR sales in Canada – all the big 3 pickups, ford escape and dodge caravan would be in the top 10 vehicle list.

  • avatar

    I imagine that Honda was able to take the last nickel out of
    the Civic’s quality after having a good look at a Corolla.
    The Yaris looked like a hell of a lot better made in the interior than the Corolla.

  • avatar
    wsn

    The “critics” must criticize a popular choice to attract eyeballs to bring bread to their tables. Anyone bet their own money on the “critics” opinion would go bankrupt in no time.

  • avatar
    wsn

    “In the run up to year’s end, Honda touted very aggressive lease deals, including zero down, 0.9 percent lease deals”

    Would you really call that “aggressive”? The rate at 0.9% sounds low, but it’s only 1.2% lower than my mortgage rate at 2.1% (and yes I live in Canada). If I am to buy a car, I would simply stop over paying my mortgage and use cash to pay for the car.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Zero down is aggressive. The only thing more aggressive would be 0.0% rather than 0.9% interest. But then you do seem to have a blindspot when it comes to Honda.

      “The “critics” must criticize a popular choice to attract eyeballs to bring bread to their tables.” The next time the “critics” do this to any manufacturer other than Honda and Toyota I will remind you of this statement so you can be consistent in your dismissal of such comments

  • avatar
    BTV

    Does anyone have an idea why the best equipped Honda un Europe (read also with the biggest motor) is 2.2 Litre Diesel.
    Probably some weird regulation or the hystorical refuson of Europeople regarding bigger engines.

    I’ve been wondering for years, only the Germans do big engines in Europe, french and imports are all up to max somewhat ot 2.5 .. 2.7.

  • avatar
    Pearley

    Being that today is only the fifth day of the new year, it may be premature for this story to anoint the Honda Civic as the best selling car in Canada during 2012. But I do admit that selling 55,000 Civics in just the first four days of the year is mighty impressive. Extrapolated out, that puts 5,431,250 new Civics in Canadian garages this year.

    Party time at Honda Of Canada!

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The sales success of this Civic, the Corolla, and new Jetta should indicate that a good portion of people simply don’t care what auto journalists from enthusiast sites like Motor Trend, Car and Driver, Insideline, and TTAC think. Their criteria for happy car ownership doesn’t line up with yours. And this doesn’t mean they are ignorant or boring people.

    What surprises me is that Consumer Reports no longer recommends the Civic, but the Corolla is still well rated. The Civic’s chintzy interior, sloppier driving dynamics, underperforming carryover powertrain, and bland styling make it a convincing Corolla clone. So I can understand a decrease in the rating, but struck from the “Recommended” list?

  • avatar
    AJ

    I suspect a number of Civic sales are just satisfied Honda customers. My DD is an ’09 Civic Coupe and is my third Civic. The car is fun to drive (especially being a manual), minimal maintenance and offers on average 34 mpg. The first Civic I owned is still in my family and runs about as great as it did when I first bought it (a ’98).

    I’m sure my current Civic will not be my last. The car just makes sense and it’s too bad Detroit could never build a comparable car.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    The new Civic is definitely not as spunky as the older Civics that we all remember fondly. But it still is a damn nice car. And it gets great fuel economy.

    I look at the Civic as decently fun to drive, reliable, and cheap on gas. I don’t care if it has DI or a six speed auto trans, as long as it hits the fuel economy numbers. I think that 90% of Honda buyers look at their cars in the same way. These are not the folks that post online about their car purchase, yet they explain why cars like this will continue to sell despite online criticisms.

    Take the Camry as an example of this. When is the last time you have read a good review of the Camry that didn’t include the words “boring appliance” somewhere? Yet folks continue to buy this car and love it. Most of them will buy a new one without a test drive.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    - VW periodically runs it’s sign and drive lease deal. Whether or not they make money on it I don’t know, but I can’t see that Honda’s lease deals would be any less profitable or the VW’s deal is any the less about grabbing market share.

    - Honda’s problem is that the reliability gap has closed so much that consumers are no longer willing to pay a premium for that reliability. Hyundai might not be any more reliable, but the warranty is better. Honda is the automotive equivalent of the Maytag washer. One buys Honda for reliability. That is the brand image. That is what the brand is about. But reliability is no longer hard to find, or worth paying a premium for. Honda (and Toyota) are both in trouble now, because their “brand” is no longer special or worth a premium. They must now find a new reason to exist.

    -Most people think IRS stands for Internal Revenue Service. Suspension systems and handling perceptions are stuff enthusiasts like to talk about. It matters no one whit to 97% of customers.

    -If Honda needs another Prelude or hot little Civic hatch, that’s easy enough to remedy. But the real problem is not lack of sporty cars, the real problem is lack of unique branding position, and the premium that used to command.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Most people think IRS stands for Internal Revenue Service. Suspension systems and handling perceptions are stuff enthusiasts like to talk about. It matters no one whit to 97% of customers.

      You do know that former GM Chairman Jack Smith said essentially the same thing? Look how well that worked out.

      IIRC the quote was regarding IRS and 4-speed automatics “Folks won’t pay for what they can’t see.”

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

        Former “Leader” Bob Putz also said that “hybrids are a fad” and “only for marketing reasons”, how’d that work out for ya Putz?

        “Ignorant” must be a key term in ones resume in order to be hired at the former General it seems.

      • 0 avatar
        Contrarian

        Take away tax breaks and HOV lanes and hybrids may well be a fad.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Up here, people in general ie; the vast majority are “thinking challenged”, and can’t get to first base about gaining car knowledge.

    Or maybe its the high taxes and cost of living. Or maybe they don’t care about cars as most cars look like hell with their black steel wheels and snow tires 5 months of the year, so why care.

    I’m surprised the Russians or Chinese don’t realize the wasteland sales environment here and send over some cheap cars. They would probably sell even if they were all POS’s.

  • avatar
    capdeblu

    Does anyone know if the Civic has a timing belt (that has to be changed) or a timing chain. Or how does one find out this information?


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