Few will argue that Honda ruled the import market throughout the 80’s and most of the 90’s. From rock solid, dependable performers such as the entry level Civic and slightly more upscale Accord, to sportier innovations like the Prelude and CR-X, along with their penchant for keeping their designs fresh and new every three or four years, Honda made trailblazing and successful inroads into most every segment of the automotive market.
However, in recent years, Honda has been the target of criticism from automotive gurus and consumers alike, citing both the company’s erratic marketing and questionable manufacturing decisions. A few examples:
Engines – instead of following the trend towards smaller, even more fuel efficient engines, Honda has opted for larger power plants and correspondingly larger cars, such as the newly redesigned Accord. And instead of pioneering hybrid technology, Honda lost ground to the mega selling Toyota Prius.
Product Line – Honda always seemed to have the gift of naturally producing cars that tapped into a given market. In short, it gave the people what they wanted. More recently, however, the company has chosen to produce vehicles such as the Insight and the new CR-Z, both of which are uninspired and underpowered.
More recent introductions haven’t fared as well as their predecessors. While the Accord and Civic remain the mainstays of the Honda line, the Odyssey mini-van appears to have worn out its welcome (if declining sales numbers are any indication), and the CR-V and Pilot are simply not turning heads like they used to.
An all new Civic was due in 2012, but recently sent back to the drawing board for engineering and design revisions. For a company that has always been Johnny on the spot with its new releases, this is a bad omen indeed.
Honda has managed to avoid the large scale recalls that pretty much devastated Toyota in the last year or so. Still over 950,000 Hondas were recalled during the same time frame due to serious airbag defects.
As for the “Toyota effect”, their loss should have been Honda’s gain as far as sales, but while Honda’s sales figures have remained impressive, there was no noticeable uptick following the Toyota recall debacles. Honda has maintained strong numbers largely due to the reputation they established in the 1980’s, but they have done little to pull the classic nameplate up to the next level.
With the current economy still in a downturn, automakers are struggling to come up with vehicles that are both environmentally sound, fuel friendly, and still pleasing to the eye. Toyota knocked it out of the park with the Prius, and other automakers have similarly picked up balls that Honda should never have dropped in the first place.
The powers that be at Honda need to shake off their complacency, and proactively seek to reclaim their position as innovators of design and technology. After having the formula so right for so long, a return to the glory days can’t be that far away.