Wednesday, March 30, 2005


GM Ain't The Only One With Problems

The Detroit Free Press picks up on something that's gone virtually unnoticed (except at Autoextremist) in the shadow of GM's woes - Honda's hurtin' pretty badly right now, too:

Honda's trucks aren't the big problem. While the CR-V and Element SUVs are down for the year, the Pilot SUV and Odyssey minivan are more than offsetting those losses. Honda truck sales are up 4 percent for the first two months of the year.

Honda car sales, meanwhile, are in the tank -- down 20.7 percent.

Now, as a devout Honda fan (first with their motorcycles, and more recently their cars), I'll have to say that this is surprising - but yet it's not.

First, the Civic. Previous Civic models are basically small-car perfection. They feel well-engineered (and that feeling goes well beyond just perception - go poke around one for a couple of hours), and simply don't make the driver feel like he's being punished for buying a compact. But the most recent Civic? Well, we've got two of them in the pool at work, and frankly they're nothing but disappointing. Cheap-feeling interior materials (including the dreaded "mouse fur" that's plagued so many GMs) and a lack of ride compliance that somehow offers insufficient roll stiffness manage to overshadow the typically wonderful Honda drivetrain and ultra-precise steering to yield a vehicle that feels far short of perfect - not what we expect from the Big H.

The new Accord isn't quite as bad, but beltlines are creeping higher while the waistline grows larger - both wrong directions for a car that's known for an exceptionally usable greenhouse and a certain solid-yet-light feel that has helped make the Accord such a great midsize sedan. I'm not so hot on the styling, either, at least not the four-door's sheetmetal. The front just looks wrong, and the rear looks like something stolen from Saturn's reject bin. Fortunately, the excellent suspension system remains, and Honda's V6 can run with anything in its class (um, not to mention some pony and muscle cars).

I'm thinking that we'll see something much better in the form of the '06 Civic, but with the competitiveness of the compact marketplace being what it is, how many buyers have already been lost? And is the Civic brand overexposed? Toyota's launch of the Scion brand was in no small part a counterreaction against those youngsters who see a Camry in their parent's driveway, and perhaps Honda's facing the same thing.

Hopefully Honda can find their mojo, because they still remain my favorite car company, and I've yet to see a vehicle as well-engineered as the wife's '01 Accord for anywhere near the same money. In the meantime, I'll just sit back and see if the Ridgeline tanks, or if there's more of a market for Avalanche Jr. than I think.

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