We've Heard This Incorrect Forecast Before: Honda Believes in 2022 Civic Because "Passenger Cars Are Going to Stabilize"

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
we ve heard this incorrect forecast before honda believes in 2022 civic because

As Toyota approached the launch of the all-new, 2018 Toyota Camry in mid-2017, the automaker telegraphed its intentions very plainly.

“I think you’re going to see the entire sedan market pick up,” then vice-president Jack Hollis said. “We want the new Camry to rehabilitate the segment,” Toyota’s Moritaka Yoshida said at the time.

Toyota wasn’t alone.

“I don’t expect to sell fewer Accords in 2018 with this great new product,” Honda’s sales vice-president, Ray Mikiciuk, said later on in 2017. Accord sales fell 10 percent in 2018 before sliding 8 percent in 2019.

One year later, Nissan’s Dennis Le Vot worked up to the launch of the 2019 Altima by suggesting that when it comes to passenger car market share: “We think 30 percent is the bottom.” Passenger car market share fell below 30 percent in 2019, the new Altima’s first full year.

Now we’re months away from the arrival of the 11th-generation Honda Civic. You know the drill: major automaker launches major car nameplate, major automaker suggests car market will stop the free-fall, major automaker hypes possibility of car market healing.

We’re skeptical.

Gary Robinson, American Honda’s vice president for automobile product planning, says, “We do believe that passenger cars are going to stabilize and actually do quite well over the next five or six years.” Speaking to Automotive News, Robinson says that in the low-$20,000 spectrum, “It’s really hard to offer an SUV that young people are really looking for.”

Yet there are two issues being conflated here. On the one hand, there’s the strength of 10 generations of wildly successful Honda Civics, which alone can not and do not create a favorable atmosphere for cars in general. On the other hand, there’s the weakness of America’s overall passenger car demand, which can and does foment unfavorable consequences for particular models, such as the Camry, Accord, and Altima.

In the context of passenger cars, the Honda Civic is a powerhouse. It’s currently America’s second-best-selling car overall; the top-selling compact car; and according to Honda, America’s best-selling car on a retail basis in each of the last four years. Honda also says the Civic is the top-selling vehicle outright with Millenials, Gen Z, and first-time buyers.

It doesn’t take a mathematical wizard to conclude that a car with that pedigree should sell in the hundreds of thousands on an annual basis. That is likely to be all the more true as competitors – Cruze, Focus, Lancer, Dart, Verano, and Golf among the most recent – fade from memory. Indeed, as the 2022 Civic arrives with a more conventionally handsome and less divisive design, some tech upgrades, and numerous other refinements, Honda will be extremely well positioned in the compact-car segment.

But a strong Civic does not a strong car market make. Just as a strong Camry, strong Accord, and strong Altima were not sufficient to rescue America’s midsize market and did not stabilize the overall car sector’s plunging market share, a new Civic will not soon hold back this cresting wave.

What makes us so sure?

Seven years of decline. A precipitous decline that is only becoming more difficult to reverse as the car market loses offerings, as whole segments virtually disappear, as SUVs/crossovers shrink their efficiency gap, and as consumers’ replacement habits become more fixed.

Since 2013, the car sector’s share of America’s auto industry has fallen by half. That’s certainly no knock on the Civic, which not only maintained relatively stable sales during that period (Civic sales were down just 3 percent between 2013 and 2019 and hit a record high of 377,286 in 2017) but which also nearly doubled its share of the passenger car market. Through the first three-quarters of an admittedly bizarre 2020, 8 percent of the cars sold in America were Civics.

Strong Civic sales, however, won’t resuscitate the American car market. As proof, we can just keep looking back at the results from the last seven years: strong Civic demand; weakening car demand overall. Honda’s right to expect big sales volume from the 2022 Civic. But we’ve grown all too accustomed to watching automakers make bold proclamations of increased U.S. demand for cars in cars, and watching as that proclamations coincide with decreased U.S. demand for cars.

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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  • ABC-2000 ABC-2000 on Nov 25, 2020

    I was sure (at some point) that Honda will combine the Accord and Civic into one car, same as they did with the TL and TSX into TLX, I guess I was wrong.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Nov 26, 2020

    If you keep turning sedans into Lamborghinis (interior room, cargo capacity, entry/egress, visibility), don't be surprised when people keep buying other vehicles instead. The OEM's are kind of speaking out of both sides of their mouths here, since they generally make more money on "SUV" vs. "car."

  • Jeff S I don't believe gm will die but that it will continue to shrink in product and market share and it will probably be acquired by a foreign manufacturer. I doubt gm lacks funds as it did in 2008 and that they have more than enough cash at hand but gm will not expand as it did in the past and the emphasis is more on profitability and cutting costs to the bone. Making gm a more attractive takeover target and cut costs at the expense of more desirable and reliable products. At the time of Farago's article I was in favor of the Government bailout more to save jobs and suppliers but today I would not be in favor of the bailout. My opinions on gm have changed since 2008 and 2009 and now I really don't care if gm survives or not.
  • Kwik_Shift I was a GM fan boy until it ended in 2013 when I traded in my Avalanche to go over to Nissan.
  • Stuart de Baker I didn't bother to read this article. I'll wait until a definitive headline comes out, and I'll be surprised if Tesla actually produces the Cybertruck. It certainly looks impractical for both snowy and hot sunny weather.
  • Stuart de Baker This is very interesting information. I was in no danger of buying a Tesla. I love my '08 Civic (stick), and it feels just as responsive as when I bought it 11 years ago with 35k on the clock (now 151k), and barring mishaps, I plan to keep it for the next 25 years or so, which would put me into my mid-90s, assuming I live that long. On your information, I will avoid renting Teslas.
  • RHD The only people who would buy this would be those convinced by a website that they are great, and order one sight-unseen. They would have to have be completely out of touch with every form of media for the last year. There might actually be a few of these people, but not very many. They would also have to be completely ignorant of the Hyundai Excel. (Vinfast seems to make the original Excel look like a Camry in comparison.)