Timing is everything – and Mike Accavitti was clearly wondering whether he got it right the day he accepted his new job as head of marketing for American Honda, a couple months back.
That was the same day that the influential Consumer Reports magazine took a potshot at the Honda Civic, declaring that the 2012 remake of the long-popular subcompact, normally one of the non-profit publication’s favorite choices, “now…ranks near the bottom of its category.”
As if to drive the knife deeper, the magazine followed up with a second report raising serious questions about Honda itself. And CR wasn’t alone. The 2012 Honda Civic has received a rash of criticism while the maker itself has come under increasing fire from various media – including TheDetroitBureau.com – faulting it for a variety of issues, including timid design.
Further complicating matters, the maker was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Japan on March 11. The subsequent product shortages have probably reached their worst this month, says Accavitti, a former Chrysler executive.
“For a second, I thought, ‘Holy, moley, what did I get myself into?’” he says with a laugh that betrays his initial concerns. But despite Honda’s recent setbacks, the new marketing chief insists he’s in for a good ride.
“We still respect Consumer Reports, though we disagree with some of their findings,” he told TheDetroitBureau.com in an exclusive interview, comparing the criticism of the maker to the way an A student might be chastised for bringing home a B+. The competition, Accavitti suggested, is like a C student being heralded for getting a B. “Every time you step up to the plate you’re not going to hit them out of the park.”
The new Civic simply reflects the changing realities faced by Honda, which has gone from being a niche player to part of the automotive mainstream over the years. Today, “You have to be a little more conservative than when you have nothing to lose and can risk a roll of the dice,” insisted Accavitti.
In fact, Honda continues to take risks, he suggested, with products like the CR-Z, the Accord CrossTour and the Acura ZDX. While industry analysts might agree, they’d also point out that Honda has largely flopped with most of its recent niche offerings. The ZDX barely registers on the sales charts and aiming to spark new life into the hatchback, Honda has dropped the Accord name and will simply call it CrossTour for 2012.
Honda could boost sales, Accavitti asserted, if it wanted to play by the rules of the competition. But the maker has no intention of bumping up its incentives – as even Japanese arch-rival Toyota has done in a bid to revive lackluster sales – nor will Honda start dumping cars into fleet markets, a familiar tactic when Accavitti was at Chrysler.
“We’ve been hit hard,” said the new Honda vice president, and “August will be the worst month of the year from an industry situation,” but as inventories rebuild, he promises, Honda will show that it can overcome short-term setbacks, including criticism from a powerhouse like Consumer Reports.