As far as manufacturer PR reps are concerned, there’s nothing worse than an automotive media outlet that’s willing to criticize a car. But when the unthinkable does happen and, say… I don’t know, Consumer Reports fails to recommend a new Civic, at least there will always be another publication that backs up your opinion. And, in the midst of unprecedented C-segment competition, Honda’s Executive VP for sales John Mendel trotted out this very approach recently. In an email to dealers that was obtained by the LA Times, Mendel wrote
Sometimes you disagree even with those for whom you have the greatest respect. And it seems as if that is what has occurred with the Consumer Reports review of the 2012 Honda Civic LX. We fundamentally disagree with their suggestion that Civic doesn’t rank among their recommended small cars…
Among many other very positive reviews of the Civic lineup, Motor Trend magazine recently tested eight compact cars, including Civic. The respected auto enthusiast magazine -– which knows a thing or two about ride and handling –- ranked Civic second among eight compact cars in the comparison drive. Many would be thrilled with this result. However, we disagree with Motor Trend as well –- we think there is no better compact car than Civic.
Luckily Motor Trend’s staff empathizes… they wish they could have given all the cars first place! And what about Car & Driver giving the Civic second place in its comparison… of two? In all seriousness though, Honda needs to check itself for signs of bunker mentality. Yes, Mendel’s responsibility is sales not product development, but creating an insular world where critical opinions are ignored and feedback is cherry-picked for the rosiest possible picture is bad for the long-term culture of an automaker.
Compare this approach to that taken by Honda Europe. It’s previous generation of Europe-only Civic (FK/FN) was widely criticized in the press for its poor-riding torsion beam rear suspension, lack of refinement and dynamic failings. With a new Civic coming to Frankfurt, Honda Europe is making it clear (by releasing the video shown above) that it is addressing those criticisms head-on, promising a “two-generation improvement” in ride quality. That’s the Honda that became a global player: responding to criticism, not burying its head in the sand.