“To say last year was an incredible challenge would be a gross understatement,” suggested John Mendel, the chief U.S. executive with American Honda, as he opened up the maker’s Detroit Auto Show news conference.
The maker suffered a double-digit decline in U.S. sales, largely as a result of production shortages following the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11 – but it also had problems with some of its new product launches, the 2012 Honda Civic, for one, taking serious criticism. So, the upcoming launch of that long-time midsize market mainstay, the Honda Civic, will be a critical step in the maker’s efforts to turn things around.
Honda is offering a glimpse of what’s to come in the form of the new Accord Coupe Concept making its debut at the 2012 North American International Auto Show. A production version of the 2-door will be unveiled at an upcoming auto show, with both the ninth-generation Honda Accord Coupe and Accord Sedan set to join the maker’s line-up for 2013.
The goal going into the project was to “completely re-envision” what Accord is about, said Mendel. That’s apparent from the new model’s design and from a closer look at the technical details, as well.
The look of the new Accord Coupe Concept still clearly says Honda, with such traditional design cues as the large greenhouse which enhances visibility. But with the concept car – itself a thinly-disguised take on what will reach showrooms – Honda has gone for a more aggressive yet elegant design. That’s critical considering the changes sweeping the market. Gone are the days when midsize buyers wanted bland and largely invisible styling – as Toyota has learned with the mixed reviews it is getting for the 2012 Camry redesign.
Significantly, the Concept Coupe – and the production model to follow – is smaller overall but Honda claims it delivers the same size interior as the outgoing, eighth-generation Accord.
Under the hood, Honda will use the new Accord to highlight its new Earth Dreams powertrain technologies, which finally start to catch up with the competition by introducing turbocharging and direct injection, among other things. In Tokyo, Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito declared a goal of having best-in-class fuel economy in all segments Honda competes in – something Mendel reiterated in Detroit.
The production Accord will be powered by a new 2.4-liter gasoline direct injection inline-four that is expected to deliver notably better power and fuel economy. It will be mated to Honda’s new Continuously Variable Transmission, though Mendel quickly added that it will have “none of the rubber band feeling other CVTs are known for.”
A year later, expect to see Honda bring out a plug-in hybrid version of the new Accord. It will get about 15 miles per charge and should take just 1.5 hours to recharge using a 240-volt circuit. The system will allow a driver to choose when to switch to battery power, which is more effective in urban driving conditions than during the freeway portion of the daily commute.
Inside the cabin, Honda also plans to provide a mix of new technologies, such as the LaneWatch system that takes Blind Spot Monitoring to a new level. It minimizes false alerts by showing what the system picks up in your center stack LCD monitor,
The Accord will be the first Honda to offer Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning, Mendel noting the technologies will quickly become available across the rest of the Honda line-up.
Honda clearly has a lot of work ahead to recover the sales and share it lost in 2011, “when we were running at half throttle,” according to Mendel. With the launch of a new Accord, he insists the maker “is racing again with full power.” But it will go up against some tough competition, including not only the new Camry but the next-gen Ford Fusion, which made its own well-received debut at the Detroit Auto Show. And Nissan will update its midsize Sentra and Altima models later this year. So, it seems, Honda will have to keep the pedal pressed to the metal.