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Honda Tells Dealers, Clear Out Old Civic for “Emergency Refresh”

Early update aimed at resolving compact's many problems.

by on Oct.23, 2012

Honda will have an "emergency refresh" of the Civic in showrooms several years earlier than the normal mid-cycle update.

Honda will reveal an “emergency refresh” of its much-faulted Civic model next month, likely at the annual L.A. Auto Show, hoping to address the numerous problems that generated a critical drubbing of the long-popular Civic after its 2011 redesign.

In the meantime, the maker is pressing dealers to clear out leftover 2012 Civics as quickly as possible because the coming update will make it “a difficult model (to) sell,” according to an exclusive report by Autoblog.com.

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The irony is that despite taking hits from many reviewers – including some downright hostile words from normally Honda-friendly Consumer Reports – the current Civic, flaws and all, has continued to be a strong force in the U.S. market.

But company officials clearly were chastened by the criticism of the Civic.  In a recent interview with TheDetroitBureau.com, John Mendel, Honda’s top-ranked American executive, conceded that when designing the compact model, “We under-estimated the competition,” and cut some corners that it now appears were shortsighted.

In a letter to dealers obtained by Autoblog, David Hendley, American Honda’s Assistant Vice President of Sales, stressed that the improvements to the mid-cycle Civic update will make the outgoing 2012 Civic a difficult model [to] sell when they are side to side.”

(For the complete letter to dealers and Autoblog’s report, Click Here.)

He advised dealers that the updated Civic will be revealed on November 29th – which just happens to be during press days at the Los Angeles International Auto Show.

Exactly what changes are in the works remains to be seen, but the criticism of the current-generation Civic have covered a wide range, most notably an interior that featured some decidedly down-market plastic panels and pieces.  That has been a worrying trend, according to many critics, with many recent mainstream Japanese products – likely spurred by the need to adapt to increasingly lopsided exchange rates.

Meanwhile, American Honda Pres. Tetsuo Iwamura has also signaled that changes will likely be made to the compact model to “improve the Civic’s drivability.” The sportier versions of the gen-nine model, in particular, have been faulted for not being quite so sporty as in past generations.

Considering Civic makes up about a quarter of American Honda sales, that might seem a potential serious problem.

Yet even with Consumer Reports repeatedly criticizing the Honda Civic and, in its August 2012 issue naming the model “a car to avoid,” sales are up about 40% compared to year-ago levels, with sales totaling 234,029 through the first nine months of this year.

By comparison, the overall U.S. market rose a comparatively modest 14.5% during the same period.  On the other hand, Japanese sales for 2012 may be misleading considering makers like Honda suffered severe inventory shortages a year ago due to the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that all but shut down the Japanese auto industry for many months.

The Civic has not been Honda’s only problem child.  The maker has seen a number of recent models struggle – both with critics and consumers – over the last several years.  That’s particularly notable among niche models like the Honda CR-Z and Insight, and the Acura division’s ZDX. The latter model gets its own update for 2013 – but is then pulled from the market.

Mendel has told TheDetroitBureau.com that new policies will give American managers more control over products directed primarily at the U.S., such as future versions of the Civic and the bigger Accord. He also insisted steps will be taken to ensure that niche models will also be more suitable for American tastes.

The “emergency refresh” of the Civic, coming at least two years earlier than might normally be expected, could be the real test.

Honda officials did not immediately respond to TheDetroitBureau.com’s request for comments.

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