By on March 8, 2010


When the production version of the Honda CR-Z debuted at the Detroit Auto Show, TTAC’s judgment was swift and harsh. Paul Niedermeyer’s piece “Why The Honda CR-Z Is So Ugly And Should Never Have Been Built” met with more agreement than dissent, and with good reason. Even though the hybrid coupe is still months away from going on sale, Honda engineers and dealers are already talking about their misgivings about the project, belying the project’s lack of originality and its poor chances for commercial success. CR-Z Chief Engineer Norio Tomobe describes his struggle to initiate the project to Automotive News [sub].

We had serious doubts about whether this would bring new value. I really struggled for a new idea, and we decided to start over from scratch. The hybrid finally gave us the wow factor.

This also marked the point where Honda’s US bosses started to lose interest in the project.

According to Tomobe, Honda’s US boss Tetsuo Iwamura “derided” prototypes of the car, but was eventually overruled by then-R&D boss (and current CEO) Takanobu Ito. He characterizes Iwamura’s concerns as follows:

In the American market, people equate hybrids with the Prius. If the hybrid is sporty, it’s going to confuse the customers and dealers. It’s ironic that the United States was the most vocal in saying they didn’t want the car, but the CR-Z still made its world debut at the Detroit motor show

But what does Tomobe think of the finished product? It needs “more horsepower,” he tells AN [sub], but:

I’m satisfied. This is what the future of sports cars will be for Honda. We are not pursuing absolute maximum speed. What we aim for is a car that is exhilarating to drive.

And with the Type R version Tomobe hints at, Honda might get there. In the meantime, the planned efficiency numbers don’t excatly make a stellar “green” case for the car either. And if this subpar mileage and performance sounds familiar, it’s probably because the CR-Z is largely built around components from Honda’s underwhelming Insight hybrid. According to what AN [sub[ has gleaned from its interview with tomobe, “it has the same engine room, front flooring, fuel tank and hybrid system. The motor, battery and inverter essentially are the same as the Insight’s.”

Honda has all but admitted that the Insight is not up to snuff, and based on this public mea culpa, it sounds like they’re already managing expectations for the CR-Z. Or sabotaging the wee hybrid coupe before it can make a case for itself. Either way, not good.

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38 Comments on “Honda Engineers And US Execs Agreed: The CR-Z Shouldn’t Have Been Built...”


  • avatar
    joeveto3

    Honda should mainstream the Civic and bring about versions of that, including a CR-X, as they did with the original CR-X. The recent Honda offerings (Crosstour, Insight, too big Accord, oddball Civic, Ridgeline) leave me scratching my head. They did the Fit and CR-V correctly, in keeping with the brand identity. The Brand is in trouble, and here is more evidence.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    2nd Generation Insight, sans the triple-digit fuel mileage (extreme hypermilers and semi-drafters only, please).

    If anything, the value of the 1st-gen Insights just went up a notch . . .

    Latest incarnation of the CRX? FAIL!

    Why oh why do car companies seem to fail at remembering what they used to do well?

  • avatar
    tparkit

    Coming as it does from today’s Honda/Acura, a blunder like the CR-Z doesn’t surprise me a bit. Sporty styling, but with zero performance and nothing going for it but cuteness it screams “chick car”. A hybrid, but not an especially efficient one. Practicality? None. Exactly who was supposed to buy this concept? Products like the CR-Z are surfaced by hacks out of ideas. Honda is getting by on the greater mistakes of others. Some strategy.

    I’m a Honda owner, and irritated at watching a once-excellent company die one navel-gazing, arrogant mistake at a time.

  • avatar

    what redmondjp said. I’d love a new (non-hybrid, please, and very lightweight) version of the CRX.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    There are many good lessons here, if anybody at the Detroit 3 is in the mood to learn something about the NA market, and actually make money by developing products people want and will pay for. Allow me to be the voice of the customer: “High-breedds?! Hy-breeeds?!!! Wee doughn’ need noh STEEEEEN-KING Hi-breeeds!”

  • avatar
    gslippy

    “The hybrid finally gave us the wow factor.”

    This statement confirms it’ll be DOA. Just as the Saab 9000 wasn’t 10x better than the 900, so the CR-Z won’t be two letters better than the CRX.

    A different name, a different nose, and non-hybrid might fix it, but that would be a different car.

  • avatar

    Reminds me rather a lot of the Suzuki X-90 not in concept but in execution.

    • 0 avatar
      superbadd75

      Except that the X-90 was a unique idea, and there was nothing else like it. Good or bad, the X-90 was quite original. This CR-Z is basically a previous Honda idea, the original Insight, only done poorly. It could have worked wonderfully had it been executed properly. It hasn’t.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    If the hybrid is sporty, it’s going to confuse the customers and dealers.

    Are Honda customers and dealers really that easily confused? If so, Honda’s got more problems than they think. God, and I thought the latest Acuras were ugly. Oh well…lower it a few inches, put a coffee can on the exhaust, paste an unintelligible Japanese decal across the back glass and someone will probably buy. I’m guessing it may appeal to the skateboard crowd.

  • avatar
    srogers

    I’d certainly be in the market for a sporty hybrid. But I have to remove myself from the CR-Zs market as I need seating for 4-5.
    Maybe an Insight SI, and only if it does better mileage than the current Insight. Otherwise I’ll just buy a Fiesta or Mazda2.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    For the price, it’s a total disappointment. I guess we’ll see how the new Civic Coupe turns out. Although from the sound of that third quote, the Si will probably be a hybrid, if they even have an Si at all.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    I like everything but the nose. I like the idea too but think the execution is weak.

  • avatar
    jaje

    First off – the current generation Civic has been a smashing success. It was the first vehicle to outsell the Ford F series truck. It is also one of Honda’s best current designs with a well executed exterior (some interior oddities aside). It is still frugal, fun to drive, looks good and is Honda reliable.

    The Ridgeline was never built to convert over BOF truck buyers. That is aside that most BOF pickup owners never needed that kind of versatility in a truck but image was more important than anything. For those who did not research the intent of the Ridgeline it will always be a disappointment to you b/c it does not sell in droves like the established F150/Silvy/Ram trucks did (however almost all its sales are to retail customers which means much higher profit margin).

    The Ridgeline was made for loyal Honda owners who needed a truck and the Ridgeline did what they needed (got a boat? jetski? snowmobile? atv? dirtbike? – the Ridgeline will tow it easily and comfortably and handle just like your Accord. A lot of those who attack the Ridgeline have never even driven one to see who much better of a vehicle it is on the road compared to a BOF truck. The Ridgeline is much easier to park too and it will give you 75% of what a BOF truck could do without the rough edges.

    The Ridgeline is not perfect. It has sub par mpg and was styled badly (remember most truck buyers want to look tough or utilitarian – not like a soccer mom’s minivan). In the end the Ridgeline did what was needed and stopped current Honda car owners from defecting – and that is a success. And we are all better off b/c of it. Now truck builders consider how safe their truck is b/c the ugly duckling Ridgeline was the first pick up to ever get 5 star crash and 4 star rollover designation from IIHS and NHTSA not to mention the creativity Honda took in making storage bins / compartments. That helps every buyer regardless if you think it looks girly.

    Now onto the CR-Z – the wrong car Honda needed. Another low mpg hybrid 2 seater. Some excitement was needed and Honda dropped the ball altogether. Seems Japan Corp and US Execs have quite a gap in perception of what people want. But US Execs have quote a gap in what US consumers want (shall we say ZDX, RDX, Acura grilles).

  • avatar
    majo8

    This car is hideous. The cowl is way too high, rendering it un-sporty looking.

    I own a current Civic coupe, which IMO is a much more attractive car.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    If Tomobe, by his comments, is channeling Bob Lutz, he’s gonna have to do better than that.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    Dear Honda:

    Please copy the 1988 CRX. You can make standard, and SI versions, and for your HF model you can use the beautiful diesel you use in your over seas Civics

    Thanks

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Yuck. A CRX or Gen-1 Insight redesigned by a committee using funhouse mirrors. Anyone else notice how the design creates an optical illusion making the rear wheels look tiny? Or the front wheels looking too big, take your pick.

    Let this thread continue on a bit, and I am sure someone will say the usual, that we can’t remake the CRX or gen-1 Insight because safety regs mean we must accept heavy and bloated cars. To which I again call BS. Cars were lightened significantly from the late 70’s through much of the 80’s WITHOUT compromising safety, through advances in materials technology and weight-efficient design. We have had two decades of further advancement in materials technology and design since then.

    The recent discussions of “fat” quality as relating to Toyota are leading me to think the problem is not that we can’t build light and trim cars that also safe. It just costs money to do so and we are building cars to a price instead. At the risk of pushing political buttons, car safety has become like health care. We want the most safety achievable in a package but we also do not want to pay for it. So we pay for it indirectly, in kludgy design, weight, poor visibility and inefficiency. And in lack of choice.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    I agree that the current Civic and CR-V are more-or-less fine. Too many other cars in the lineup are a mess. US designers/execs should be kept away from the Acura lineup (the Legend, Integra, Vigor, Gen-2 TL were just fine) and the bloated US-spec Accord sedan and coupe are both no-go.

    That said, I still have issues with Nissan’s current designs, pricing on Infinitis, total blandness of Toyotas, weirdness of Mazdas, why-bother with Mitsubishi… not a big Subaru fan … what to do? Oh, I know, keep driving the Integra and hope Honda snaps out of their coma.

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    I will withhold judgment on this car. If it really is “exhilarating” to drive then suddenly the merely good mileage will look really, really nice. If it is boring, nothing they can do will save it. The thing is, we won’t know until it’s out.

  • avatar
    marlin66

    Any chance they can go back to offering the entire 1988 Honda lineup…?!?

    I can wait….

    Or maybe some of the models they currently sell in the rest of the world… FR-V, Civic hatches, Jap-spec Odyssey, Accord (proper) wagon…

    Still waiting….

  • avatar
    carve

    So the thought process at Honda was…

    “Hey- we have this totally disappointing new car…the Insight, which gets crappy mileage compared to the Prius and is even less fun to drive. Lets remove the back seats and use this as the basis for a hyper-efficient sporty coupe.”

    Epic fail. You can’t polish a turd. In fact, I think the original Insight was closer to the mark. It had a similar look, lower cowl, got WAY better MPG, and I heard it was reasonably quick, too.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    Hear ya on the 1988 Honda lineup. That generation had the best line-up of body styles and the best chassis and suspension. They still had a ways to go on corrosion protection, but that’s another matter.

    And Adamatari is right about the boredom factor. Before the current Insight came out, there were claims flying around that it was supposed to have decent driving dynamics. Well … it didn’t; compared to a Prius, possibly it’s “less bad”, but that’s not enough.

  • avatar

    As long as we’re playing fantasy league product planning for Honda:

    Just bring back the 1st Gen Insight. It was a niche product, but it served that niche extremely well.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    for some reason the look reminds me of the Me-163
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messerschmitt_Me_163

    Except no wings and (little bit) better mileage.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    It’s a big disappointment in terms of style, weight, and probably gas mileage. To save what they can from their investment, Honda needs to drop in the 2.0 Liter 4 from the Civic Si. The CR-Z looks like it should weigh a bit less than the Civic Si and with the 2.0 Liter it should have a small edge in terms of performance.

  • avatar

    The snout is the problem. In Insight it was at least somewhat balanced by the back seats.

    BTW, all the whailing about the CRX (the versatile vehicle in which Hans Reiser carried his wife’s body) misses one obvious point: it would never pass today’s crash tests.

  • avatar
    John R

    It may be too late to ask thisn but…Why couldn’t they engineer a Fit chassis to accomodate a K20 motor??? Seems like no brainer.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Boy, did these things ever rust out. (Just trying to prepare myself to get ahead of the CC curve.)

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Very interesting that the internal dissension at Honda over this car is made public. What does that say for any manufacturer’s car that the manufacturer themselves have doubts about a new model?

    Too bad the final styling didn’t more closely mimic the prototype. As I said in the thread about the prototype Honda needs to offer an IC in this car especially considering there is no justification in either MPG or performance or cost for the hybrid.

  • avatar
    AJ

    I don’t understand why Honda has to feel it’s okay to keep putting face lifts on a CRV? Time to move on…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Despite what people say of Toyota being the Japanese General Motors, that title really belongs to Honda.

    It’s not a matter of quality, it’s the Honda shares GM’s arrogance product planning and disconnected marketing. Honda, like GM, designs and builds the cars it wants, and never thinks that what they want might not be what will actually sell.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    How about a sporty 2-seater on the Fit platform? Seems like a no-brainer.

  • avatar

    throw the 200 hp K20 from the Civic SI in that bad boy and let her rip.

    Or better yet, the direct-injected turbo K23 from the RDX.

  • avatar
    Accazdatch

    Man…
    Honda has bigger issues than this front heavy mess.

    Accord has serious JENNY-CRAIG problems.
    Ridge needs to be smothered.
    Civic needs a better interior and a 3/5dr hatch

    God.. what happened to Honda from 10yrs ago.

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