An editorial in Car and Driver given the subtitle “Deep Thoughts” tackles a favorite subject of the peanut gallery; the Decline and Fall of Honda’s Empire. Unfortunately, rather than being a critical analysis of the real problems that Honda is prone to (which author Dave Mable mentions, albeit in passing), it’s simply yet another softball lobbed at the sophists who have opinions on everything and know very little. Like C/D commenter “GolfTDI”, profiled in the above photo.
Mable is able, in some respects, to cut through the bullshit and get to the core problem. While a bunch of journalists are bemoaning the loss of the RDX’s turbo engine and SH-AWD, Mable calls out Honda product planners for green-lighting the car to begin with. Before anyone protests in the comments, it was not a good engine to begin with. The RDX is symbolic of the stifling stubbornness that plagues Honda, the belief that, as Mable puts it they are “smarter than the market” and that whatever they are doing at that moment is the right way, the only way and to suggest anything else is an act of capital idiocy. This is unfortunately a symptom of the fearless iconoclastic streak that runs at the core of Honda. This attitude brought us VTEC, the Integra Type-R and the NSX, but it also leads to the Crosstour, and a weak Acura lineup.
Where Mable falls apart is falling into the typical enthusiast trap of thinking that his desires, and the desires of C/D’s readers are also those of the market. All the world’s damnation can’t stop the Civic from being America’s third-best selling car (just barely behind the second place Altima). The Accord, Odyssey and Pilot are also selling well. The CR-V, despite its lack of fancy technology or interesting styling is far and away America’s best-selling crossover this year.
This is what separates the Honda of 2012 from the GM of 1981, despite what Mable thinks. GM did create “…highly engineered but woefully underdeveloped products.” Honda, on the other hand, is making products that may not be on the cutting edge of engineering, but actually add value and make the lives of customers easier. Nevermind the enormous delta in quality between the two companies.
While most critics (and the B&B) were lukewarm on the CR-V because it didn’t have GDI, turbocharging or whatever flash-in-the-pan technology was being touted by the buff books, I went long on the CR-V because Honda had created a well-thought out crossover with features that actually mattered to the people buying the cars. 9.9 times out of 10, a low load floor and rear seats that fold with one touch will beat MyFord Touch or Fluidic Sculpture styling. Mable also admonishes the current Accord for offering a V6 when others are moving to turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, while noting the irony of Honda taking forever to offer a V6 despite dealers and customers begging for one. Mable must have forgot that the best selling car in America, the Toyota Camry, still offers a V6, while smaller players, like the Hyundai Sonata, the lackluster Chevrolet Malibu and still-unreleased Ford Fusion are moving to the blown 4-cylinders. If you’re Honda, then you’re gunning for the Camry, not the bit players.
I’m starting to wonder if the press has reached their breaking point with Honda. No matter how hard they try to malign their products as boring, a waste of money or behind the curve, they keep selling. Could Honda really have their finger on the pulse of what the consumers want. You know, the people who actually spend their own money on cars? For every single segment Honda competes in, I can easily think of a competitive product that I’d rather have (ok, maybe not in the minivan segment). It never used to be that way. But if you really are only as good as your last product, well…maybe Honda isn’t in such trouble after all?