The Real Honda is in Real Trouble

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Dec 22, 2008.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    The Real Honda is in Real Trouble

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    By Jack Baruth
    December 20, 2008

    “La plus belles des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas.” Baudelaire, straight out of The Usual Suspects. And while the world focuses on the usual suspects of the auto-industry collapse, something odd is happening over in a shadowy corner: Honda is running scared. It’s been less than four months since the Civic sold more than fifty-two thousand units in a single month, toppling the almighty F-150 from its two-decade-long run as the best-selling vehicle in the United States, but if anybody at the Big H is celebrating, they’ve apparently decided to hide their exuberant light under a bushel of program cancellations, production cutbacks, and a panicky sale of their backmarking F1 team. Why? Surely, if anybody’s in good shape to survive the coming catastrophe, it’s Honda; they have the small cars people “want,” unimpeachable planet-friendly credentials, and a solid base of non-union production. What’s causing them to huddle behind their hurricane shelters? The answer’s simple: when it comes to Honda, reality is very, very far away from the public perception.

    Americans are accustomed to thinking of Honda, Toyota, and Nissan as being the “Big Three” of Japanese auto production. Not quite. Honda sells more Civics in the United States than they do cars in Japan. A quick troll through Honda’s annual report reveals a corporate iceberg: The tip: Japanese-market auto and motorcycle sales. The nine-tenths below the surface: North American cars-– and Chinese scooters (by unit volume are Honda’s best-selling products).

    More than any other Asian automaker, Honda’s fortunes are tied to the United States. The collapse of the American auto market would effectively turn back the company’s clock to 1970, making them once again a small-time producer of two-wheeled vehicles for emerging markets.

    So what? Honda’s the small car company! Surely, they’ll benefit more than anyone else from the recession-that-isn’t-quite-yet-a-depression? Not so fast…

    When Honda began producing Accords in Ohio twenty-six years ago, all of their cars were smaller than a Chevrolet Citation. Today, the upmarket versions of the Accord tip the scales at close to two tons, while the Civic is bigger than BMW’s 135i. The 2009 Fit is certainly small, but in stick-shift form it can’t even match the Chevrolet Cobalt XFE or (gasp) Ford Focus for EPA highway mileage.

    Time for that iceberg analogy again: the public image of Honda in the United States is as a purveyor of small, fuel-efficient models, but the bulk of their sales happen below the water with the Accord, the Acura TL, the forty-five-hundred-pound Pilot and the Cyclops-sized Odyssey. Nor could Honda quickly change their Marysville, Ohio and Lincoln, Alabama plants over to small-car production; these facilities are built around Accord-width vehicles and would require a nontrivial investment of time and money to retool.

    Faced with a market which preferred the Fit to the Acura MDX, Honda might just do the easy thing and bring Fits in from their Chinese factories, allowing them to scale back US production to the bare bones.

    Honda has plenty of money in reserve– over nine billion dollars in cash and investments. As we’ve seen in the past few months, it’s easy to burn through billions of dollars if you can’t move the metal. Some of that money will also be needed to expand motorcycle production for the Chinese market, and you can bet that, given a choice between spending money in a collapsing American economy or making money in an expanding Chinese one, Honda’s board of directors will choose the sure thing.

    While relatively adventurous by the standards of other Japanese companies, Honda doesn’t like to take any risks which aren’t absolutely necessary to its survival.

    That same relentless pragmatism has informed Honda’s indifferent attitude towards its enthusiast owner base in the past decade. It has now been a full decade since Honda introduced a new sporting vehicle for the American market. The S2000, introduced to compete with the BMW Z3 and first-generation Boxster, now faces the second-generation Z4 and the second variant of the second-generation Porsche. The Acura NSX, fresh from the indignities of a bug-eyed facelift and a mercy killing, is now officially an orphan.

    When times are good, Honda doesn’t do much for their biggest fans; when times are tough, it does nothing at all. The company which powered the mighty Ayrton Senna to three World Championships has just abandoned his nephew Bruno in its ignominious quick-march backwards from Formula One, an unfortunate coincidence that emphasizes Honda’s unsentimental attitude towards the men and women who are fans, not merely owners.

    In a perfect world, Honda’s reaction to an economic crisis would be the creation of exciting, enthusiastic cars that met the needs of the economist, the enthusiast and the environmentalist in one brilliant design. It’s happened before: the 1989 Civic Si that I am contracted to drive in NASA’s endurance-race series next year is a prime example of a car that was all things to all small-car buyers. Today’s tubby Civic, lumbering beneath the burden of half again as much weight as its predecessors, isn’t the car for the job, and two-ton Accords won’t carry the company very far into a fuel-starved twenty-first century.

    Perhaps the new Insight will be the answer to Honda’s problems. I suspect it will be nothing more than a pale Prius copy. The next generation of Honda cars needs to recapture the tradition of those brilliant early Civics and Accords. More importantly, the company needs to recapture its bond with its most fanatical owners. Without that bond, well, another quote from The Usual Suspects: “And like that, poof. He’s gone.”
     
  2. dew

    dew Banned

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  3. R.Bowsk

    R.Bowsk intergalactic space traveler

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    Give back to the true fans... bring back the CRX!
     
  4. Toxicity

    Toxicity New Member

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    My av is so small you can't see it!
    To be fair, they make better cars than toyota.
     
  5. Scottwax

    Scottwax Making detailing great again! Moderator

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    Put factory HIDs in the Accords, that would be a start.
     
  6. swedishstar

    swedishstar Active Member

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    Also go back to metal door handles (interior), instead of plastic.
     
  7. Mitchj

    Mitchj OT Supporter

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    so does GM
     
  8. herpes

    herpes OT Supporter

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    trishield love bump
     
  9. CopenKagan

    CopenKagan OT Supporter

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    As well as Ford. People just blindly follow Toyota.

    My wife's 99 Camry has 75,000 miles and has a moderate lifter tick, my 2000 Mustang GT has 120,000 miles and the engine runs flawlessly.
     
  10. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Lifter tick is not a problem; all cars with hydraulically-adjusted valve lifters develop lifter tick over time. It has zero effect on the engine's operation, but you can always get the lash adjusters replaced if it bothers you that much.

    The issue isn't one of quality (anymore), it's one of demographics. GM and Ford might make cars that are as reliable (and as consistent, with little variation from one to the next) as Honda and Toyota, but they still suck at making cars people want to buy. People buy Hondas and Toyotas because Honda and Toyota make cars that people like. Scandal!

    That said, I'm looking forward to test-driving a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid.
     
  11. Mitchj

    Mitchj OT Supporter

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    Ford (particularly outside the US) makes better cars than just about every manufactuer combined

    Ford makes the best cars in the world fullstop.

    Think about it, fiesta, mazda 2 (same platform), mazda 6, mondeo, falcon, euro focus, plus all those versatile people carriers, SUV's, and arms like the entire australian FPV lineup (which is arguably the best engine in any car today).

    Ford > *
     
  12. forgotmyname

    forgotmyname Active Member

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    Ford makes unreliable pos, so quit fooling yourselves.
     

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