Editorial: Honda Crosstour: You Can't Fix Ugly. Or Can You?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beholders have beheld the new Honda Crosstour and found it not beautiful. Ugly, in fact. Ten years ago, this condem-nation wouldn’t have been a problem for the vehicle’s manufacturer. At worst, a few aesthetically-offended members of the automotive press would have nibbled the hand that feeds, gently alluding to the vehicle’s “challenging” exterior. Otherwise, the illusion that the Honda Crosstour isn’t a Gorgon-on-wheels would have been maintained—at least until “disappointing” sales proved the point. Those days are gone. These days, Honda’s decision to green light an ugly automobile has unleashed a major PR debacle. Welcome to the Internet, fellas. I did warn you.

True story. Once upon a time, I wrote that the Subaru B9 Tribeca was ugly. More specifically, I called the Subie SUV’s front end a “flying vagina.” Excrement and rotary air moving device collided. Subaru had me fired from my job as car reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. The anti-TTAC backlash was fast and furious. BMW, Chrysler, Subaru, Toyota, GM—every single mainstream carmaker in the United States took TTAC off their press car list. Including Honda.

HoMoCo tried to dress up their contribution to the ban as a sudden realization that TTAC was too small for press car consideration. I didn’t argue the point. Why bother? We were small. But I told the PR flack in question that he was missing the point. The game was changing. Thanks to the Internet, the Japanese carmaker couldn’t hide from the truth about their cars. You know, eventually.

I figured GM’s bankruptcy would be the beginning of the end for decades of journalistic bribery and collusion. When the largest and most monolithic of the American automakers went down, the industry would realize they had to face the truth about their products, or face extinction. While I didn’t expect the chastened car companies to embrace their protagonist, I thought the post-GM C11 automakers would at least begin to see the value of a website that left no holds barred.

At that point, perhaps, carmakers might reach out to us and engage our writers and commentators in something roughly akin to a conversation. An open, honest and frank exchange of views about their vehicles’ shortcomings, leading to better products and customer relations. I predicted that the first car company to fully embrace Internet openness would have an enormous competitive advantage.

Here’s what I didn’t understand: TTAC was part of the problem. Yes, we host a not inconsiderable 1.1 million unique visitors per month. But we’re still an elitist outfit. Not to coin a phrase, we report, you decide. Old school. Or, more accurately, outdated.

The Crosstour controversy proves that the power of the truth has leapfrogged gatekeepers—both old and new—and landed on the keyboards of individual enthusiasts. To wit: a TTAC writer didn’t force Honda’s hand in the matter of its ugly ass CUV. Everyone did. Honda’s Facebook page was the medium. “The Crosstour is ugly” was the message.

And now that the message is out there, Honda can’t deal. Their efforts to do so, via their “Message to Fans,” misunderstands the fundamentally no-bullshit nature of Internet “debate.” By doing so, Honda only makes things worse.

Hi, Facebook fans. We’re listening, and we want to address a few things you’ve been talking about over the past few days. The photos: Arguably, the two studio photos we posted didn’t give you enough detail, nor were they the best to showcase the vehicle. There are more photos on the way. Maybe it’s like a bad yearbook photo or something, and we think the new photos will clear things up. It’s not the European wagon: We’ve seen a lot of comments about the desire for a wagon, but this is neither a wagon nor designed for wagon buyers. We think the Euro wagon is a cool vehicle, too, and we appreciate the feedback… but a version of that wasn’t our intention here. That’s another segment worthy of our consideration, but the Accord Crosstour, built on the larger, Accord platform, is meant to give you the best of two worlds – the versatility of an SUV with the sportiness of a car. Many of you don’t like the styling: It may not be for everyone. Our research suggests that the styling does test well among people shopping for a crossover.

Arguably? “A bad yearbook photo?” “Clear things up?” Honda’s rip-post is defensive, evasive, obfuscatory, condescending. Moreover, it shows that the automaker is so far out of the cultural loop they don’t realize that the phrase the “best of two worlds” evokes the deeply uncool Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus paradigm. And “We’re listening” brings to mind blowhard fictional shrink Frasier Crane. Taken as a whole, it’s hard to imagine Honda drafting a worse reply to their “fans” that doesn’t include the words FOAD.

More to the point, Honda fails to understand that the Internet wins. The web has revealed that their would-be emperor is buck naked and unattractive; rendering their previous product design and research worthless. And there’s nothing Honda can do to change this perception amongst the automotive opinion shapers. Because it’s not perception. It’s reality.

Honda can’t fix ugly. Unless, of course, they do. Honda could spend tens of millions of dollars to rectify this now-obvious mistake. Lest we forget, despite Subaru’s vicious anti-TTAC smear campaign, the car company quickly modified the Tribeca’s flying vagina front end into a Chrysler Pacifica-esque snout. Will Honda follow suit and change the Crosstour?

In some ways, it doesn’t matter. The autoblogosphere has forced Honda to face the truth about their car. For those of us who love cars—not forgetting that hatred is love turned upside down—the fact that Honda may be shamed into returning to product excellence is a truly wondrous thing.

It turns out that Gil Scott-Heron was right: the revolution will not be televised. It’s on Facebook.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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2 of 94 comments
  • Anonymous Anonymous on Nov 17, 2009

    [...] Sure, Honda responded to the issue, but it was very formal and seemed more like a press release. There is no openness or conversation. Honda’s lack of transparency eventually lead to their deceptive and unethical behavior. Rather than discuss with their customers, Honda ignored the conversation and heads straight for one-way defense. In a world that relies on honesty and social media, Honda’s got it all wrong and is out of the cultural loop. [...]

  • Bugo Bugo on Sep 29, 2010

    It's ugly, but no uglier than, say, a Camry.

  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.
  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.