Honda has made a quick U-turn.
Just 19 months after its Civic compact hit showrooms and was slammed by critics, the company has revamped the car, giving it a sportier look and upgrading the interior.
It's an unusual and costly do-over. But Honda — among the auto industry's most highly-regarded brands — was worried the car's flaws would hurt sales and market share, analysts say.
The 2013 version goes on sale Thursday, and Honda has given it a sportier profile, replaced its chintzy dashboard and made the ride quieter. The revamp comes to market in about half the time it normally takes, and shows just how concerned Honda is about falling behind rivals.
"The new consumer coming to the marketplace looking for a compact car doesn't think the Civic is a slam-dunk anymore," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for the TrueCar.com auto pricing website.
The company misjudged the small-car market when it rolled out the Civic in April of last year, analysts say. Small-car buyers used to tolerate cheap materials, noisy interiors, and boxy styling just to get high gas mileage. But they now expect their gas-sippers to have a quiet ride, crisp handling and plush seating. The 2012 Civic lacked those refinements.
It was so noisy, for example, that "I kept trying to put the windows up," recalls IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland, who says that competition caught Honda off-guard.
To be sure, criticism of the 2012 Civic hasn't dented demand. Sales of the car have risen to 255,000 through October, up 39 percent from last year. The car has passed the aging Toyota Corolla and the Chevrolet Cruze to become the nation's top-selling compact.
But the increase came mainly because Civics were in short supply last year following an earthquake in Japan. Loyal customers delayed purchases until the Civic returned, Toprak said. The Civic also is selling well because of discounts, he says. Dealers are knocking about $2,500 off the sticker price to clear out 2012 models. Civic discounts usually run about $500.
Without changes to the car, Honda probably would keep longtime customers, but it wouldn't attract new ones. "They will eventually start bleeding market share," Toprak says.
When Honda began to develop the 2012 Civic years earlier, competitors still were putting out blasé compacts aimed at budget-conscious buyers. But as gas prices rose, consumers shifted to smaller vehicles. At the same time, companies like Hyundai rolled out sleek, quiet compacts with amenities once reserved for the luxury class.
Shortly after the 2012 Civic went on sale, in the spring of 2011, the influential magazine Consumer Reports refused to give it a coveted "Recommended Buy." The magazine's chief auto tester said that the car was a step backward, and it appeared Honda tried to save money by using cheaper parts.
Company executives get prickly when asked if criticism was the reason they moved so fast to update the Civic. They'll say only that they wanted to keep the car ahead of the competition.
"We're not reacting to negative criticisms," says Art St. Cyr, Honda's chief product planner in the U.S. He says that Honda started revamping the Civic even before the 2012 model came out. "We weren't embarrassed. We weren't trying to make excuses for what we were doing." Yet Honda did something startling with the 2013 model. Instead of making a few cosmetic changes that normally come in the middle of a car's life, the company did an overhaul. It added insulation to cut engine noise, put in thicker glass to reduce wind, and made the brakes larger to stop the car faster. The seat material was upgraded, and Honda added a softer dashboard with two colors. Outside, the car got it a more aerodynamic look with a new hood, trunk lid and lights.
The improvements are so vast that Honda must have started working on them even before the 2012 went on sale, Lindland says. That's before the criticism came from Consumer Reports and others.
Lindland, who drove the 2013 Civic in advance of its Thursday debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, says it's far better than the 2012. "I was really impressed with how quiet it was," she says. "It's just a more refined and more elegant small car." Toprak says the new Civic looks like an expensive luxury car, especially when compared with its predecessor.
The revamp is costing about $500 per car, Honda estimates. Toprak says the spending was necessary to attract new buyers. Many people who would have bought larger cars are now looking at compacts because they're in fashion, he says.
Compact car sales now account for 14.6 percent of the U.S. market, up 2.2 percentage points from just five years ago, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.
Honda will get part of the revamping cost back by raising the base price of the Civic LX by $160 to $18,965 with an automatic transmission. But the company eliminated the stripped-down DX version, which started at just over $17,000 with automatic.
The quick do-over puts the Civic back among the top cars in its segment, says Lindland. But it doesn't mean that all automakers will upgrade their cars every 19 months.
"It's expensive to do these," she says. "I wouldn't say this is a trend — yet."
Honda has made a quick U-turn.
Prep Sports Scoreboard: 04/11/2014
A roundup of prep sports results from across northern Michigan:
GT Academy founder faces bank fraud, tax evasion charges
Grand Traverse Academy co-founder Steven Ingersoll faces federal charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and tax violations, accusations that publicly surfaced about a month after the school severed ties with his management company.Continued ...
Editorial: Recent BATA changes put accountability first
The Bay Area Transportation Authority is undergoing some needed accountability changes that should improve service to some while rewarding others for playing by the rules.Continued ...
TCL&P resists coal dock pressure
Traverse City Light & Power board members withstood heavy lobbying and allegations of closed-door maneuvering from influential local groups to place the $2.68 million coal dock property’s future in the hands of the city’s elected representatives.Continued ...
New zombie flick set in northern Michigan
Most days Brian Dawson is a mild-mannered veterinarian. Others he’s a flesh-eating zombie.Continued ...
Derrer to play at Syracuse
Dakota Derrer won’t have to be one of the boys anymore. But now she’ll have to resist the urge to hit like one.Continued ...
Career Kickstart kicks off today
Job seekers can get free professional clothing and lots of advice on resumes and interview skills at an event today at Northwestern Michigan College.Continued ...
High schools among most challenging in U.S., state
Local students have the opportunity to attend two of the most challenging high schools in the nation, based on the Washington Post’s annual rankings.Continued ...
School gets ATM
TBA Credit Union installed an automated teller machine at Traverse City West Senior High School.Continued ...
Letters to the Editor: 04/11/2014
Enabling the homeless.Continued ...
TBAYS set to celebrate silver anniversary
Fred Haines had a vision. He also had passion and determination. And on any given day in the spring or fall, if you gaze out at the expanse of soccer fields at the Keystone Road Soccer Complex and see hundreds of kids kicking balls around, you are able to see it all spring to life.Continued ...
NMC administrator off to China for student recruitment
A Northwestern Michigan College administrator is off on another trip to China with hopes of recruiting high school students from Beijing to enroll at NMC their senior year.Continued ...
The Record: 04/11/2014
Assumed names filed in Grand Traverse County:Continued ...
Life after 'The Voice': Maloney out but not down following cut
Ryan Whyte Maloney is out but he isn’t down. The Traverse City native and “The Voice” contestant was cut from the show Tuesday after making it to the top 20 on Monday.Continued ...
Forum: TC can't get bed tax, visitors centers can
I am writing to comment on the March 29 Another View: “Local tax a local windfall” about Franklin County in New York state seeking state approval to impose a bed tax on hotels and motels in that county, and your Online Poll question asking readers whether such a tax is a good idea.Continued ...
Kalkaska's Will Noble headed to the next level
This season Will Noble took his game to another level. That’s allowed him to take his game to the next level.Continued ...
Building Permits: 04/11/2014
Building permits issued in Grand Traverse County:Continued ...
Saturday festival all about dirt and Earth
Mara Penfil likes dirt. She likes to remind people that leaves fall from trees and turn into dirt, mushrooms grow in dirt, all kinds of organisms make a home in dirt.Continued ...
Bums add Wrenn, Rossi to infield
The Traverse City Beach Bums added to an already fairly loaded infield by signing shortstop Taylor Wrenn and infielder Drew Rossi.Continued ...
Weekend in Brief: 04/11/2014
Celebration for Pete Seeger; OTP Studio Theatre stages police drama; Dirt Fest; and more.Continued ...
Prep Sports Roundup: Morgan, Cvengros pitch Glads to sweep
Gabby Morgan pitched a two-hit shutout as St. Francis blanked Benzie Central 10-0 in the opener of a non-league doubleheader Thursday. (Plus more)Continued ...
Movie Capsules: 04/11/2014
New this week — Draft Day: At the NFL Draft, general manager Sonny Weaver has the opportunity to rebuild his team when he trades for the number one pick. He must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice on a life-changing day for a few hundred young men with NFL dreams. Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references. (HOR)Continued ...
Forestry experts gear up to fight next deadly beetle
Michigan foresters fear the sight of a black beetle with white spots.Continued ...
Grand Rapids band feels 'at home' in TC
Members of Grand Rapids’ Sweet J Band consider Kilkenny’s Irish Public House in Traverse City their home away from home.Continued ...
Night Life Calendar: 04/11/2014
Entertainment in the region:Continued ...
- Prep Sports Scoreboard: 04/11/2014