By on January 6, 2009

As Martin Schwoerer has pointed out, Honda is in the midst of a green-oriented rebranding. Formula One efforts and the NSX “replacement” have already been canceled, as we’ce reported. According to Autocar, more enthusiast-oriented programs are being slashed as weak markets meet green branding initiative. Planned rear-drive Acura models, including development of a V8 engine are off the table due to poor demand for luxury models. These models were planned to compete with BMW’s 3,5 and 7 series. Honda has also canned plans for a S2000 replacement, leaving it without any kind of sports car in its portfolio. Though the eagerly-anticipated CR-Z coupe is still a go, a convertible roadster version will not be pursued. This isn’t great news for enthusiasts, who have long seen Honda as the most sporting of the Japanese big three. In reality, Honda has been steadily moving away from its enthusiast roots for years now.

Nissan’s GTR, 350/370Z and Altima have largely wrested the “mainstream import brand for enthusiasts” crown from Honda in recent years. Similarly, Inifiniti, Lexus and the Hyundai Genesis await any attempt to move Acura above its current entry-level, practical luxury brand. Instead, it seems that Honda is sniping at undersupplied sections of the market. It would seem that the Insight Hybrid is the new face of Honda’s corporate strategy, as it ditches an attempt to offer value upmarket (where sales are way down) in favor of offering value in the Prius-dominated hybrid market. The Insight and a forthcoming Fit Hybrid may not seem sexy to many enthusiasts, but Honda’s long-term approach is eminently pragmatic at a time when the market requires nothing less. Besides, as I may have mentioned once or twice, the enthusiast in me is plenty excited about the forthcoming CR-Z.

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42 Comments on “Honda Curbs Its Enthusiasm...”


  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Oh hey, Honda’s making an electric motorbike too. Cool move if two wheels happen to be enough for you.

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    Well… That’s dissapointing.

    I really thought Honda would be the company to combine eco-friendliness with driving fun. Instead, it looks like they just want to wrestle with Toyota over the eco-boring market.

    Is it so hard to make something enviromentally friendly AND fun?

    It looks like Mazda and Nissan are the new Honda, Honda wants to be the new Toyota, and Toyota is the new GM.

  • avatar
    Tommy

    I think the “fun” in Honda was always a quirky side-effect. If anything, they have always positioned themselves to be a value company, and the sporty cars were interesting diversions at best.

  • avatar

    “This isn’t great news for enthusiasts, who have long seen Honda as the most sporting of the Japanese big three.”

    ORLY? Nissan would like to have a word with you…

  • avatar

    Well, some of us still remember the “three-sedan” era in Nissan’s history, where the company deliberately killed everything besides the Sentra, Altima, and Maxima in an effort to put “seriousness” in their lineup. That was pretty traumatic for a lot of fast-Nissan people

    -JB, whose first car was a 1983 200SX.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    The CRZ is fine, but I’m still mostly interested in something that would replace the Celicas, Integras, Preludes, 240SXs, and MX-6s of yore.

    This new Insight is likely to be merely a better hybrid than the Prius, and the Civic a better/sportier compact than the (zzzz) Corolla. Honda is better, but not groundbreakingly better.

  • avatar
    HD1974

    Holy cow! Honda is hitting all the right buttons to turn me off from ever buying one of their cars. Annoying DRLs and *follow Al Gore, pseudo-science, gonna cram the green down your throat* BS.

    Their great quality is the only thing keeping them alive.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    HD1974,
    Guess which major automaker gained the most US market share in 2008?

  • avatar
    Demetri

    “Nissan’s GTR, 350/370Z and Altima have largely wrested the “mainstream import brand for enthusiasts” crown from Honda in recent years.”

    I would say Mazda more so than Nissan. Actually, this could be good for Mazda. They need a niche, and it has to be sporty imports. Honda shying away from that area only strengthens Mazda’s hold. Now they just need to get rid of the Tribute, B series truck, and CX-7/9. You can’t call yourself “zoom-zoom” and offer said vehicles while not offering the Mazda 2.

  • avatar

    Perhaps GM and Honda can JV a V8, since neither can make a case for going it alone with one?

  • avatar
    kol

    Seems like Honda is dramatically over-estimating the power of being “green”. The environment is important, but being “green” is a fad, and one that is probably more on its way out than in. Its unlikely fuel prices are going to go up any time soon, and people are worried more about their wallets than the world walrus population.

    Honda’s always been a high-value, somewhat sporty important with amazing reliability. If you take out sporty, they are…Toyota. Great.

  • avatar
    EddieNYC

    So, a car company that doesn’t want to be everything to everyone in every market.

    What an interesting concept.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “I’m still mostly interested in something that would replace the Celicas, Integras, Preludes, 240SXs, and MX-6s of yore.”

    Don’t hold your breath. The two door coupe market has been shrinking for many years now and shows no signs of revival.

  • avatar
    mwilbert

    “Green” may or may not be a fad, but gas prices are already going up again. If gas prices don’t hit a new high within the next five years I’d be greatly surprised, and car companies can’t turn their product lines around on a dime, so Honda is probably smart to recognize the probable future. If they are wrong, they will be penalized in the market.

  • avatar

    No surprises here. I’ve been blasé about Hondas for years. The decline of sporting pretentions has been long in the making; VTEC and riced-out Civics are the only “exceptions”. Hell, they kept selling the NSX at astounding prices for many years with only minimal refreshes (it was a good car, sure, but you think they could have improved it somewhat over 15 years).

  • avatar
    FrustratedConsumer

    Well maybe they can learn to put in some soy based sound deadening material since even the pseudo-luxury Acuras still allow more road and tire noise than a brass-era Buick.

  • avatar
    tedward

    Well, I hope it’s not an intentional image change Honda has planned. It would just be bizarre to abandon their sporty image entirely, and intentionally, when the fact that they have that image generates buzz for them just like their reliability does. If they cancel the R and si cars I’ll really get worried.

    I’d say that Nisaan is clearly king on account of their 3.5,350z and GT-R, but I’m worried about them as well. The fact that a CVT made it into a “sporty” car with the Maxima is bizarre, and, I think, indicative of excesive management interference in product development. Or maybe the real car guys were busy working on the real sports cars that day. If they actually pursue this instead of dual clutch for the long-term product line then there’ll be that many more rentals that suck to drive, and one or two less compacts to seriously consider.

    Toyota is just awful, I hate their laziness, and it’s only worse because it’s a relatively new thing. You have money, hire some lotus engineers when in house talent is lacking. I do like the looks of the Corolla, but that’s about it.

    And only a fool would cancel a replacement for a car as good as the S2000. The solution is to make a cheaper one.

  • avatar
    tedward

    …and I love mazda, simply love them. I like their minivan, compact, cheap roadster, sedan and, as much as possible, their SUVs. Can’t say that about any other company.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Why can’t you have you green, and your fun, too? It is easy to be fast and wasteful; it takes a lot more effort to be fast with a sense of concern and dare I say, frugality. I would think Honda, of all car makers, would be the company that can take sound science and form a well rounded product portfolio around the concept of sustainable living and make the product fun. We really don’t want Prius-only kind of cars. They have their place, make no mistake, but I would have no problem trading a mpg or two for sticky tires to satiate my need for g’s…

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Sadly the next pure sport car coming to the US from Honda will be the Beat once the 25 year NHTSA/EPA exemption is up.

  • avatar
    WhatTheHel

    Takeo Fukui is a coward and seems to have forgotten the history of the company he runs. These all seem to be knee-jerk/short term decisions that will do nothing but long term damage to what Honda means to many of us.

    And God help Acura. I thought they had sunk to Lincoln levels but it looks like they’re heading down to Mercury territory.

    Toyota has deep pockets and trying to outgreen them may be a mistake.
    The NSX replacement should have never been a V10 in the first place.

    As an RSX owner I was hoping to one day move into the rumored G-37 fighter from Acura. Looks like that’ll never happen. I sure as sh*t have no interest in a 4-door luxo-barge.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m hyper-sensitive and over-reacting a bit but this all makes me want to cry. Somewhere in heaven Soichiro Honda is doing the Darth Vader Episode III scream “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

  • avatar

    sad. I wish they still made the Integra. Like Blunozer (second comment), I would also have thought they’d combine fun with green. And reap green as a result

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    We’re all car enthusiasts so we look at this slightly differently than the rest of the public.

    However, saying that, Honda best remember that a big reason it is where it is today is because people like me grew up in the late 80s to mid 90s absolutely adoring Hondas because they weren’t just “sensible” (they definitely were great overall buys), but because they had just enough flair to the styling, zip to the drive, and pep to the engines that they stood above everything else in those days. They snagged us then, and we’re still buyin. Guys and gals alike.

    Trying to become a mainstream automaker could bite them in the behind. Green may be a big selling point, but (and I don’t hang out with 15 year olds) I’m gonna suspect that kids today still think a sporty, fun little car that lasts forever and is inexpensive to run is still a whole lot more desirable than a “green” car.

    If they aren’t able to hook today’s teenagers, they might find they have a smaller piece of the pie in the future. Putting all your eggs in one basket clearly is not a good idea (look at GM or Chrysler for trucks….no reason being top heavy on “green” couldn’t also be a bad thing).

    So it saddens me, because I still remember fondly the Integras and Civics and 1991 Accord (with a stick!). To see them become kinda blah and likely expensive due to the technology brings a small tear to my eye.

    Fortunately (at least right now) we still have Mazda, Nissan, and VW for lower cost thrills, and hopefully BMW continues its tradition of driving excellence for those looking for something a bit more upscale (since Acura clearly isn’t going anywhere).

  • avatar

    I personally would like to see Honda bridge the gap between environmentally friendly and fun to drive — they’ve done it in the past, and it would give them a qualitative advantage over Toyota’s line-up. I don’t care much about the NSX, and while I regret the death of the Integra/RSX, I can’t argue the point that the Civic Si makes it pretty redundant. The S2000 has always been an almost-but-not-quite; if it were $25K, and/or offered as a coupe, rather than just a roadster, it would make a stronger case for itself.

    Acura is another matter. Acura desperately needed a V8, RWD sedan about a decade ago — they let Lexus steal their thunder in the early nineties and never regained it. At this point, they may just be screwed. They basically have to come up with an identity. Acura started as the sensible-shopper alternative to the German brands, without the arrogant dealers or pricey maintenance costs, but Lexus has sewn that up to the point that Acura has lost most of whatever snob appeal it once had. The bucks-up approach is probably not going to be a strong seller at this point, so, lotsa luck, guys.

  • avatar
    detroit58

    Thinking that green is a “fad” is so 20th century (and very myopic). In case anyone here still doesn’t get it – green will be the normal way of life. It won’t be for the whales – it will be for us!

    I confess to being a Honda lover – but will not be an apologist. I love my ’95 Legend LS Coupe but will point out its flaws. Their market share gain is no quirk or fluke. They will target segments and provide more hits than misses in providing people with quality, reliable, fun transportation.

  • avatar
    V6

    i too miss the sporty japanese coupes of the 90’s and owned a few, but since moving onto medium/large sedans i couldnt go back to one.

    i think it’s a mistake for Honda to kill everything sporty. they’ll just end up like Toyota, boring with nothing exciting in their line up compared with the 90’s when Toyota had the Celica, MR2, Supra etc

    hopefully the CR-Z has a proper Honda high revving engine and decent steering

  • avatar
    Campisi

    This just makes me wonder even more about rear-wheel-drive architectures. Are they really that disastrous to miles per gallon in this day and age? I mean, it seems like Honda could make a rear-wheel-drive small car with their wonderfully rev-happy engines tuned for economy, and let the aftermarket take over with boosting the power.

    Perhaps the problem is that the auto companies have forgotten what makes a sporty car appealing. If you just give it a good chassis, the customers will be more than happy to take it from there. Why not build a small economy car that happens to be rear-wheel-drive for a slight premium over the front-wheel-drive cars (to offset the slight increase in cost to produce such a layout), and trust that the differentiated styling and any/all enthusiast fervour will make up for it?

  • avatar
    TaxedAndConfused

    We still get Type-Rs which outsold the not-so-hot selling S2000 by quite a bit. Even grey import Integra-Rs sold more.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Its disappointing and I feel let down. And the green branding hypocrisy is particularly galling. Partly as an interim move in anticipation of the new Accord, to be able to do a favorable same-make trade-in, I bought a used one several years ago.

    Out comes the new bloated one, don’t they know weight reduction as opposed to weight gain is job 1 in a green initiative? If they only understood that, they could keep enthusiasts and their “Pelosi” ways as well.

    So now I look everywhere but Honda, and say, looks good on ya! And don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Campisi:

    As long as the engine is in the back also, in a transverse position, there is no parasitic power loss or weight penalty from RWD. The Smart, Mitsubishi i and Tata Nano are RWD. Even with the engine in the front the parastic power loss and weight issues are very small.

    Honda’s obsession is supposed to be efficiency, but I won’t buy that excuse for no RWD except the S2000 when station wagons are much more efficient than cute-utes, and the AWD is the least efficient drivetrain of all, yet Honda has no wagons, a ton of cute-utes and uses AWD as a poor excuse for Acura not having RWD.

    Honda right now makes the best lineup of front wheel drive cars of any mainstream company, and mainstream buyers really don’t care about RWD for the cost, so Honda is doing pretty well in that respect.

    Acura, however, should be shifted to RWD or killed. There is no purpose to the current Acura when one can get leather, nav, etc. in a Civic or Accord.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    Would RWD really sell more vehicles? Yes, to some enthusiasts, but I’m sure Honda is looking at total volume. The Lincoln LS was RWD and a flop. Maybe that was because it was a Lincoln, but it surely didn’t sell well in any region that sees snow and ice. I remember many winters spent fish tailing around in huge GM & Ford RWD barges. Nobody old enough to remeber those days wants to return to that. Granted, cars have come a long way since then but after every snowfall you see two types of vehicles in the ditch – SUV’s with drivers that think 4WD makes them invincible and RWD trucks/cars that spin out and off the road. No reasonable mainstream buyer is going to seek out a RWD car for daily commuting or taking the kids to soccer practice.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ no_slushbox and @ Campisi

    FWD is primarily about packaging, rather than fuel economy. Drive train losses are not hugely different and while there are weight savings which are a bonus for economy, there’s nothing that can’t be cleverly overcome (any BMW).

    Personally, I can’t stand it.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    PeteMoran:

    I hate it also, every car I’ve had has been rwd with stick, which is incredibly hard to do in the states.

  • avatar
    nikita

    VW was the Honda of my generation. It lost its “soul” years ago and now its Honda’s turn, on the automobile side of the company, at least.

    The most efficiently packaged car in history was a RWD stick, the VW microbus.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Using a “green” image to set itself apart carries big risks for Honda.

    For years, Volvo sold safety, but then everyone jumped on the safety bandwagon, and soon Volvo no longer stood out from the crowd.

    If consumers really do demand that their vehicles be as “green” as possible, then every manufacturer will be forced to follow suit. And Honda won’t stand out anymore.

    200k-min: The Lincoln LS was RWD and a flop. Maybe that was because it was a Lincoln, but it surely didn’t sell well in any region that sees snow and ice.

    The Lincoln flopped because its styling was boring and derivative, and Ford let the car languish and die after it discovered that it could not sell it at a price that earned enough profit.

    The basic platform and drivetrains were quite good. Too good, in fact, for the price that the car could fetch in the market (which shows how debilitated the Lincoln nameplate was even then).

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    FWD is primarily about packaging, rather than fuel economy. Drive train losses are not hugely different and while there are weight savings which are a bonus for economy, there’s nothing that can’t be cleverly overcome (any BMW).

    Sit in a 3-Series BMW (or the Lexus IS/Toyota Altezza), and then in a Civic. Notice the huge amount of space that the BMW lacks, especially in the rear. Now, note the serious weight difference between the two vehicles, even when the engines are of equivalent power. Now, price a stripped 323i against a loaded Civic Si or Acura CSX; the 323 is much more expensive, but down on power-to-weight and feature content.

    Front-wheel drive is all about packaging—you’re right, there—but that packaging allows smaller, roomier vehicles that get better mileage and weigh and cost a lot less.

  • avatar
    brianmack

    Shame. Their F1 team was doing so well too. They made the best mobile chicanes in the sport.

    Remember about 10 years ago Honda had a commercial showcasing the multitude of products with their engine technology in them? Cars, boats, lawn mowers and generators were all shown. They were selling the idea that they can make quite a few decent engines. Now the remains of their F1 team are discussing the use of Ferrari powerplants.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    AS I see it,Honda has not lost the plot. They want to be both Green and Fun to drive….they afterall gave us the Fit, have they not?

    I believe is that they fundamentally understand that it ISN’t easy to just BE both, ya can’t just wake up one day and wish it into existence, it takes hard work, capital, etc. You know, business reality. (I HATE it when reality intrudes on automotive fantasy, but there you go…) Honda has decided they have to build a foundation of being one, then let natural inventiveness and serendipity lead them to the other. So Honda is dedicating themselves to the efficiency side of the engineering equations, and betting that their fun-to-drive, Apple-coolness in their corporate DNA will lead them to develop the Fun side of the engineering equation when as the Green foundation is built.

    Plenty of hand-wringers have for the last couple of years begun to bet against Honda. But whose sales are more stable than theirs? This is a time to be cautious, and I for one think their strategy is spot-on. As an investor in this industry, you could do a lot worse than to bet on Honda.

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    It is a dark day indeed.

    a) No V8 for Acura
    b) No rear drive for Acura (although the SH-AWD would’ve probably been all they needed)
    c) No NSX for Acura (which leaves Toyota and Nissan to duke it out)
    d) And now a plan to merge both US and Euro/Japan’s Accord into one global car?

    Hmm…maybe that last one isn’t such a bad idea.

    But still, as long as they keep some sportiness is their cars (their products have always been sporty in their handling) I’ll keep interested.

    You’ll never catch me buying an Acura though.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I don’t know about rwd being unsuitable for mainstream buyers, I think automakers are just too scared to re-tool and market them. With aggresive esp it’s not really possible to hold out a slide without turning it off. Also, I think people are just wrong about fwd being safer at speed. There is no real safe recovery when a snow spot induces understeer and slams your front end towards a ditch/wall, and I think severe torque steer (cause by the, now standard, more than 175hp or lb/ft to the front) is dramatically more dangerous than the mild oversteer a good rwd setup gives you. FWD is absolutely better at pulling out of a snowy parking space though, which is nice. There is no doubt though that “fwd is safer” is the dominant perception in the marketplace, but I don’t think it applies any longer.

    My current car is my first fwd’er, and I feel a marked loss of car control in poor traction conditions. I also spend lots of time in the tank that is the magnum r/t and I’ve never been deterred by a snow storm, passengers never can quite believe the rwd and giant v-8 don’t equate to death-trap, and I just shake my head because it seems like none of them have driven a rwd car since the 60s or 70s.

    Plus, millions of Americans have no problems with giant v-8 rwd pick-ups that have zero rear traction. I’d say that there is definitely a market for a cheap rwd line. Honda is just scared.

  • avatar

    Green and fun are mutually exclusive categories. The problem lies in the target markets. People who desire green products shun anything frivolous and jump all over a mediocre product that has a strong symbolic image (Prius, duh). People who want fun cars may like efficiency, but they don’t want something that is so sensible (sensible in this case meaning green, whatever that happens to mean this week) it’s boring. If a Prius drove like a GTI, ethusiasts would still shun it because of the tree-hugging image (see also American reactions to import cars and bikes in the 60s and 70s). So the question is how do you bridge the gap? You may say that there are some fun, efficient cars out there that trounce the Prius for fuel economy, but they lack the symbolic value that greenheads look for. Why else has the Prius become a best seller, darling of the media and the celebutante set, despite being expensive, a crappy driver’s car, and not all that efficient in real world conditions? Image is everything, not just for cock-car owners but also for militant green bastards who want to flaunt their smug “saving the world” mentality. So any car company will have a devil of a time making a car that appeals to both the hippies and the hotrodders, because those two groups are at polar opposites of the market spectrum.

    Personally, I’d stop whining and buy a GTI or equivalent hot hatch if you really want a fun, highly efficient car (last I checked, the GTI was rated at 42 imperial MPG on the highway, which is very close to my mom’s 1.7L Honda). And if the Fiat 500 ever makes it over here, that will be about as close to a perfect balance between fun and economy as you will see in the current market.

  • avatar
    kzone86

    Anyone who thinks Honda is the company for enthusiasts, or has been in any recent years, is blind. Honda is very close to becoming a clone of their rival:

    Toyota

    The Official Car of People Who Don’t Like Driving

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