Honda is notorious for being tight-lipped about upcoming and redesigned cars, but if there was one thing you could always count on was a consistent life-cycle of their cars. The current Civic, now in its eighth generation, was introduced in the fall of 2005 as a 2006 model, and received a mild refresh for 2009. It would be safe to assume an all-new, ninth generation Civic would show itself this fall, but Autoweek reports that is not going to happen in an interview with American Honda’s Executive VP John Mendel.
Mendel blames changing market conditions, and tougher fuel economy and emissions standards as the reason for the delay, but signs of trouble bubbled to the surface at last year’s Tokyo Auto Show, where Honda said the redesign had been altered. When Honda set out on designing the next generation Civic, the plan called for a larger car, but it appears that the company has instead decided to stay with a car similar in size to the current car. For those keeping track, the current Civic is just 2″ shy of the third generation Accord sedan.
The Civic is a critically important car for Honda. The company builds one million Civics a year, and the US accounts for one third of those sales. The way I see it, there are two ways you can look at this delay: 1. Honda is smart. They recognized they were designing a car the public may not have responded to well, and thought it better to start over. 2. Honda is losing touch with the market and what they want in a compact car, and the delay is proof they are not ready to meet what the competition offers now, or is about to offer.
Sadly, I think #2 is what is going on here. The new Mazda3 was introduced as a 2010 model, and that car improved on the last model without an increase in size. The Chevy Cruze is on its way, and its most miserly model promises hybrid-like fuel economy with a conventional engine. The upcoming Ford Focus is positively stunning. I have seen the Focus in person, and this is a car that is likely keeping Honda and Toyota shaking in their boots.
To listen to Honda, this all sounds like it is no big deal, but that is a lie. Sure, Honda will continue to sell hundreds of thousands of Civics by letting the current car go on another year, but the bottom line is this: Honda was not ready. I think it is better to realize along the way that you were designing the wrong car for the times, but consider this. The spike in gas prices happened in the summer of 2008. It was in fall of 2009 when Honda said they decided a larger, heavier Civic was not the right way to go. The delay will not harm Honda, I believe, but it does call to question the company’s decision making on what direction their key cars should take in a market that was changing long before Honda reacted.