The most satisfying parts of this job isn’t the constant flow of new cars or the luxury vacations with colleagues who never learned how to hold a kinfe and fork properly. It’s watching them look for a sacrificial lamb to offer up to the Gods of The Wobble and then see it survive the slaughter, only to maintain its death grip on the market. In this case, I’m referring to the banner year that the 2012 Honda Civic enjoyed, prior to its quick mid-cycle refresh.
Before we embark on an essay full of self-congratulation and disdain, let’s examine the context. Mark Rechtin of Automotive News talked to a Honda product planner in his story on the Civic’s refresh, who detailed how Honda made the wrong bet initially, with respect to the packaging of the Civic
“After the Lehman shock, we thought there would be different consumer behaviors. We knew that unemployment would last a long time and that there would be recessional trends. We thought consumers would be more sparse in their needs and be tightening their belts. The Civic was going to reflect that world.”
Just as Honda went downmarket, Hyundai, Ford and Chevrolet all decided to go upmarket with fancy turbo engines, direct injection, backup cameras, heated seats galore and much more attractive styling. The press was going ga-ga for these opulent compacts, especially the Golden Calf Euro Focus, and just as eager to poop on the lowly, peasant-grade Civic.
Except things didn’t quite turn out that way. The Civic outsold them all. Without any fleet sales. Yes, there were some aggressive lease programs on Honda’s part, but unlike the Focus, they didn’t dump nearly half of their inventory into fleets on any given month like Ford did.
The first inkling of the Civic’s success came when my Grandma had a week-long loan of a 2012 LX model while her pristine, 55,000 mile 1999 Civic was in for maintenance. Despite her last-of-the-double-wishbone car being considered the holy grail for Honda fanatics she couldn’t get enough of the new car. The one flaw in her mind was the lack of an illuminated ignition switch. Otherwise, the 2012 car is, in her mind faster, smoother riding and has a better stereo.
I consistently invoke my grandmother because not only is she fairly knowledgeable and passionate about what she drives (having owned everything from a Skoda, an MG Magnette, a 289 Mustang and an original 1973 Civic), but she is representative of the typical Civic buyer, unlike those who wear Piloti driving shoes to the Hyundai Tuscon launch. Her primary interests are safety, fuel efficiency and price. Not only does the Civic deliver on all three, but it hasn’t suffered the same hiccups as its highly lauded rivals, like bogus mileage claims and transmissions made of glass. For those of us who sample cars a week at a time, these are trivial concerns, but someone keeping their car for a couple hundred thousand miles may take these matters more seriously.
Want a truly dated, obsolete product from Honda? Try the Fit, the darling of the automotive enthusiast press, it fails to measure up to the rest of the crowd, most notably the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic.