By on August 31, 2018

Image: Honda

While the Ford F-150 will likely still be America’s top-selling vehicle when each of us dies a natural death, the entries below it will surely be subject to change. In the near future, at least, expect to see passenger cars sink further down the best-seller list.

Last year, Honda — a manufacturer with a fairly even car/light truck split — showed up three times on the U.S. Top Ten list: in seventh, eighth, and ninth place, with the compact CR-V leading the way, followed by Civic and Accord. This year’s sales haven’t been as kind to the Accord as it has its segment rival, the Toyota Camry, but at least the Civic’s almost holding its own.

Publicly, Honda remains optimistic about the continuation of cars, claiming they’ll remain its primary focus. Unfortunately, even for models that seemingly can do no wrong, there’s danger signs aplenty.

Speaking to Wards Auto, Ray Mikiciuk, assistant vice president of American Honda’s sales operations, says the brand is “committed” to the passenger car segment. “We believe passenger cars will continue to be a mainstay of our brand,” he said.

Of course, that commitment is predicated on there being buyers in that segment — specifically, buyers who want to drive home in a Honda. There’s no future in chasing ghosts.

Despite his optimism for Honda cars, Mikiciuk says 2018 will be the first year that Honda’s light trucks surpass its cars in terms of volume. Industry-wide, the car/light truck split was 30.5/69.5 percent in July, according to Wards Intelligence data, meaning Honda is an outlier, not the norm.

Image: Honda

Touting the Civic’s status as the best-selling vehicle in California, as well as its popularity with certain customer demographics (Hispanic, African-American, and Asian), Mikiciuk dismissed July’s 28.3 percent sales drop as the product of a strong July 2017 sales figure and the fact that, “We just ran out of Civics.” Like GM and practically every other passenger car maker, he views Ford’s wholesale ditching of the segment as a potential opportunity.

Analysts aren’t quite as rosy in their outlooks. Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at AutoPacific, praised the new-for-2018 Accord, but said it’s not catching on with buyers. Sales figures bear this out. At the end of July, Accord sales had fallen 14.5 percent, year to date, compared to the Civic’s 4.7 percent dip. Honda’s subcompact Fit saw volume fall 7.2 percent over the first seven months of the year.

In California, the Civic’s best market, buyers continue moving from one side of the aisle to the other, reducing the pool of car buyers. Data from the California New Car Dealers Association shows light-truck registrations rose 5.6 percent in that state during the first half of the year, as passenger car registrations dropped 10.1 percent.

Despite the gathering storm clouds, Honda saw fit to launch a new car model this year — the reborn Insight hybrid — which joins the Clarity range in Honda’s green car push. Hedging its bets, there’s also a new, but not officially announced crossover poised to land smack-dab between the CR-V and Pilot in terms of size and price.

Honda won’t say it, but it no doubt hopes that sales lost to an increasingly car-averse public will hopefully be returned to the brand via the new light-truck entry.

[Images: Honda]

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26 Comments on “A Tenuous Balance: Honda’s Still Bullish on Cars, but Even Segment Leaders Have Weaknesses...”


  • avatar
    White Shadow

    I love all the SUV/CUV/light trucks on the roads these days. Makes cutting through traffic with a sporty car like child’s play. Even a new turbo Civic is great for that.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    The Civic 1.5T is a master of all trades. As roomy and fast as my Optima Turbo while getting 50-75% better fuel economy. Really hurts the case for hybrids if you care at all about driving/performance.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Master of sounding like hot trash when hooked up to the CVT. Between that and the cheap interior, I’m a hard “pass” on this generation of Civic.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        No engines in this segment sound good, especially hooked up to auto transmissions- CVT or conventional. You might as well be crying about weak towing capacities.

      • 0 avatar
        theBrandler

        I agree, I drove the 2017 Si, twice, because I thought the first experience was a fluke. Nope, the 10th gen civic is a horrible car. It’s slow, it’s noisy, it under-steers everywhere, it’s got no punch at all above 5000rpm, the turbo lag is atrocious, the steering is numb and artificially heavy and yet with all of that it still costs $24k! o_0

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Yeah an SI would be a great commuter car, but I’d be holding out for a mid cycle refresh. I just can’t live with that rear bumper treatment, the front end is not offensive though.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    Here in Los Angeles, I probably see about 5 new ’18 Camrys for every 1 new Accord I see. Granted, a good percentage of those Camrys are rentals, so let’s call it 3 Camrys per 1 Accord. I think the styling is killing the Accord more than anything — and not the front styling so much as the rear styling. Most drivers notice other cars from the rear, in traffic, and the Accord’s new rear end is just strange, and “un-Accord” like.

    I see TONS and TONS of new Civics though. Every variant, every trim, and all retail customers, not rentals. It was actually fascinating watching how fast the current-gen Civic spread on the streets. Literally in one month’s time, there were EVERYWHERE.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      In northern Ohio, current-gen Camrys and Accords are also awfully thin on the ground. Although those you do see tend to be kitted-out. I swear I’ve come across more XSEs and Tourings than any other trims. Which is probably the plan.

      I second the observation that most new sedans I see *seem* to be Civics. Although late-model Fusions and Malibus both crop up more often than their relative sales figures would suggest.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Think it’s more that the Civic is about as roomy as a midsize family sedan used to be.

      Why spend the $$ for an Accord (when can also get a better deal on a Camry) when a Civic can fulfill one’s needs for a family sedan?

    • 0 avatar
      gasser

      I, too, live in L.A. and quite agree with your observations. The Accords are few and far between, by far outnumbered by Civics. I think that there’s a different reason for sales of Civic over Accord. Size. I have owned several generations of Accords since MY1980. The current size (>192”) is just too big. It’s, to me, full size. The Civic is more of the size I was used to. Although the Civic interior is smaller, most of that space loss is rear seat room, which means little to me. The rear end of the Accord is “different”. Perhaps if it were a true hatchback, it would be more useful and worth the odd appearance. I agree that here, Camry sales are way ahead of the Accord. I think that is also due to the NA engine and “old” style 8 speed (not CVT) transmission. The leases are also a lot less. Call me back when the base cars are $1999 down and $199/month. If, however, I were buying a new car now, I think that the Camry would get my business.

      • 0 avatar
        riggodeezil

        “…due to the NA engine and “old” style 8 speed”. Yeah, this right here…and the perceived reliability bestowed upon the Big T. A couple of mooks I know bought Camrys for these reasons. They don’t really know anything about cars but they equate “turbo” and “cvt” with new-fangled stuff that will break quicker than the “old stuff” (which the Camry really ain’t). Not for nothing is the Big T the Big T. Play it (relatively) conservative and keep the mooks coming, especially those whose first priority ain’t “driving dynamics”. Maybe Honda should have packaged some lower Accord trims with NA engines like they did with Civic as an antidote to turbo-fear. Regardless, like others have said, the damn “mid-sizers” are really just too big anymore. I had a ‘93 Accord that was darn near perfect as an every day driving appliance. I know Americans have gotten fatter in the last 25 years but, geez.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw the same thing in SF Bay area.

    • 0 avatar
      ernest

      Portland, Or here, and the same observations. On a recent trip up to Anacortes (through Seattle towards Vancouver BC. About 500 mi. round trip) we could count new Accords on one hand, fingers left over. Civics were everywhere, and Camry’s too. It should be mentioned that, in the Pacific Northwest, Subaru’s are probably as or more common than any of the above.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The Outback is the #1 selling car in WA the last I read, and has been at or near the top for many years so yeah they are seen more frequently than the Camry or Accord, particularly in the western part of the state. The Prius has also outsold the Camry in W. WA in many years.

      • 0 avatar

        If it was me I would buy Civic over Accord. Why? Civic is almost same size and actually better looking than Accord. Accord also bloated meh car. I would even prefer Civic over Mazda6 on looks alone.

      • 0 avatar
        theBrandler

        Odd, here in New England I have to say I do see civics everywhere, but also Accords. The Camry is such a unicorn up here it stands out every time I see it, and I really think the new one is gorgeous, until I see it’s face.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      The Civic hovers around that ideal midsize car data point of a ~105″ wheelbase. The 1.5T also gives the Civic an engine to do more than the bare minimum required.

      The funny thing though is that for its size the Accord is pretty light. 3100-3200 lbs. But the Civic is another 300 or so lb lighter with the same engine with no meaningful space penalty, unless you regularly carry tall people in the back.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Even more of an outlier is H/K when it comes to split btwn sedan and light trucks sales.

    But much of that is of their own making – a limited light truck lineup hampered further by not having adequate capacity for the light trucks they do have.

    Should change for H/K as Hyundai, in particular, is about to go bonkers when it comes to adding new light trucks to its lineup.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’ll wait for the next generation which will be, if history repeats itself, stylistically “boring”. I can’t see myself wanting either the Accord nor the Civic. The Accord is slightly more inline with what I’d want but doesn’t quite pull it off and the Civic is a hot mess.

  • avatar
    nvinen

    It’s a pointless distinction though. Why is the Fit a “car” and the HR-V a “light truck” when they’re built on the same platform? A one inch lift and some plastic cladding does not a truck make (except to the US government, apparently).

  • avatar
    Manic

    Honda’s weakness is the look of their cars, they are an overstyled mess. They look quite a bit like awful Crosstour and ZDX from the side, but front and back are even more ugly to look at. Should have changed their designers long ago.

  • avatar
    wdburt1

    I owned four Honda Accords in a row: 1991, 1997,2000, and 2007. The last two were EX-L. Then I defected to Ford Fusion in 2012.

    Recently, replacing the Ford, I found a 2007 Accord EX-L at 35,000 miles. And boy does it remind me why I was a Honda owner. A driver’s car ( I used to put on 35,000 miles a year, now about 12,000). I am looking for a winter car and it will probably be a 2006 CR-V.

    I am open to a new car when Honda decides to de-emphasize the tech trinkets and return to their roots.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I think every second car in Edmonton is a new Civic. I find the details on the car to be ridiculous, but the overall envelope, proportion and package are really spot-on, I can see why they are so popular. I’d be very interested, but for the CVT, I just can’t get across that bridge yet. As far as the Accord, they made the Civic so close in size to the Accord, nobody wants to pay the extra price (and not get a V6 anyway).

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    I’m really enjoying the fact that I love the 10th-gen Accord and few other people seem to in comparison. As soon as I get around to buying one, I won’t see myself coming and going all day. If everyone who thinks that they know how much it sucks were to go drive a 10-speed 2.0T Accord Touring like I did, many of them would also like the car and then I’d not get such a great price from the dealer. Furthermore, it’s still sufficiently high-volume production that I’ll never have trouble finding parts or a good insurance rate. Keep it up, and thanks!

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