Ask The B & B: Has Honda Lost Its Way? How Would You Fix It?
January 17th, 2010 5:05 PM Share
Honda is clearly in a slump, and we’ve certainly done our fair share to point it out: the lackluster Insight; ugly styling highlighted by uglier front grilles; a hybrid system that simply isn’t as advanced and effective as Toyota’s; a bloated Accord; no new direct injection engines; lots of muddling about future EVs; and a misplaced optimism about fuel cells. Honda (rightly) feels threatened by Hyundai and future competition from China. We’ve wondered openly if Hyundai has stolen Honda’s engine design mojo. Need I go on? This week only added to their (our) woes, with the ugly and underwhelming CR-Z. It’s time for a serious consideration as to what went wrong at Honda, and how to fix it. Honda; are you listening? (I suspect so)
Published January 17th, 2010 5:05 PM
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The CR-Z is one ugly little car. It has the nose of a Chrysler Sebring and the tail of a Smart car, held together with the roofline of the CR-X.
Honda has muddied their origins and brand by chasing the mass market - trying to appeal to everyone and everything. This has lost their message of efficient, fun to drive vehicles. My main points as to why this has happened: - Engines: This has long been Honda's bread and butter (very few mfgrs make as smooth and fun to drive normally aspirated inline 4 cylinder engines). However Honda has since focused too much on hybrids and fuel cell cars that are still unproven to make a difference. They cost more to mfgr up front, provide better fuel economy but at a price in 5-7 years for thousands of dollars in battery replacements - eliminating the benefit in the first place. Honda could have smartly bucked the trend - but chased the Hybrid halo car image (and failed). Honda could have instead focused on the millions of cars they sold (rather than the 100k hybrid/fuel cells) by adding technology to make them more efficient overall (just a 2mpg increase in a million cars more than offsets a 15mpg increase in a hybrid). By adding start / stop technology, direct injection, going to diesel engines instead that didn't require urea injection, and other small improvements would have put Honda on a different playing field. GM had a good idea with the start/stop technology but they made the big laughable mistake of calling them "hybrids" - their me 2 classification. - Styling: Honda has geared up to become a mass market automaker so they do as much as possible to make it bland looking so it won't offend anyone. Ironically doing just that offends people. - Vehicle Size: By chasing the mass market they need "average sized Americans" to consider their smaller cars. You do that by making them bigger thereby losing fuel efficiency. - Safety not by Mass but by Avoidance maneuvers: I get all bent out of shape from crash tests - it becomes the only standard as to how we measure a cars safety. What gets ignored is the safest thing you can install in a car is the ability to avoid one altogether. As our cars become bigger, heavier, taller it gets much harder to avoid (plus lack of driver skill). I'd wish also along with crash tests - these same organizations would also provide vehicle avoidance tests. That would provide a more overall picture of a cars true safety mechanisms (such as stability control, traction control, abs, awd, etc.) I'm a long time Honda customer - owned over 10 Hondas / Acuras of all different models. I use them as daily drivers, safe to drive cars, even raced for several years with them. I just see Honda losing it's once critical focus on fun to drive efficient cars to become the mass maker of big cars, SUVs and minivans. Acura is a different story altogether. With how many times they've change messages, focus and given us the product that never fit either of those - it is one of Honda's biggest failures and really needs to be shut down or put under sensible management that will really build up the brand (such as the no v8s and rwd which are tenants of luxury vehicles).
Late to the party hear, but I note that when my '96 Accord got to 150k, I figured I'd start looking for a new car in the next 50... well, I'm pushing 210k and haven't bothered to go to a dealership yet. Honda needs to either bring back the Integra and polish up the rebranded Accords, or drop Acura entirely. Get some focus with hybrid... i.e. don't push out a substandard Prius 2. The CRZ is a huge disappointment. The mock-ups looked like a dream, when I first stumbled on them I knew that this would be a commuting contender. What has come out is decidedly not. Seriously, my '95 Civic was an automatic that seated 4 comfortably that had mpg approaching this 'hybrid' and the accelleration wasn't too far off what this CRZ is supposed to be pushing. Oh, and was about 2/3 the numbers I'm seeing floating around. I'd like a hatch that isn't chinzy like the Fit, with a manual transmission that seats 2 adults (and has room for my lab in the back) that is as fun to drive as an old Civic (and gets as good a gas mileage) and is as reliable as my Accord which, to be honest, refuses to die. That would be the perfect car for any human who needs to go from A to B (and doesn't have a family of 7.) If anyone can build it, I'm sure that shop can...
There’s an exaggerated effect with some recent models that is muddling the bigger picture. There is good and bad within the current Honda lineup. Small cars The Fit is a winner. It looks great and is purposeful beyond most cars of any size. I agree with the thoughts on the City. I was in the Philippines earlier this year and it constantly caught my eye; they should consider selling it here. The current-gen Civic took a bit of time but it has grown on me. The styling is significantly differentiated from the competition and the biggest issue is really if one can live with the odd dashboard. Hybrids Designing the Insight to look like the Prius was a terrible idea! I know the Prius is synonymous with hybrid, but by duping the design they provided a free measuring stick to point out all the flaws with this car. Considering the Prius has multiple generations of refinement to work with, how could they expect to go head-to-head? They could have implemented the ‘large hatchback’ concept in a different way that would have reduced those comparisons. Large cars Ugg. Fire your California (or wherever in America they’re hiring them) design people; they’re likely all Buick ex-pats. Seriously, keeping up with the Joneses is a race to mediocrity. The design language speaks of Costco-sized bags of chips-n-dip and lazy Sunday afternoon drives to IKEA to check for new products. Toyota has fallen off the map in this regard too, worse than Chevy or Ford. The Accord needs to have its overall dimensions trimmed and have the lines cleaned up to give the impression of a tighter package. The Crosstour is an abomination. It’s obviously a Boomer car so I’m sure there’s sales potential, but they have to do something with the shape - hideous. I’m pretty sure the Venza is going to kill the Crosstour in sales. Trucks/Vans The CR-V seems to be self-sufficient in its category. I’m not crazy about the front end styling but it doesn’t matter what it looks like, people will buy this model as long as the formula remains largely unchanged. The Odyssey is nice but could shed some weight for the sake of fuel efficiency. Still, that said it’s much like the CR-V in its segment – people will just buy it just because. I don’t know what to say about the Ridgeline/Pilot except there’s too much competition in these segments to be able to stand out. Perhaps a white flag is in order and go back to re-branding someone else’s product. Either that or they should try to create a legitimate no bones about it small truck to compete in that upcoming Mahindra/Nissan/Ranger marketplace.