Even before the terrible earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan, Honda seemed to be losing its way. I wrote a story in May of last year about that.
More recently our estimable tgriffith told you about Consumer Reports’ slam of the new Civic (above)—for bad brakes and handling, a choppy ride and, yes, an inferior interior. CR rated the Civic 11th out of 12 small sedans, and that made big news in the car world.
Now the company is getting slammed again, this time with a recall of 1.5 million U.S. cars and another million in China and Canada for an automatic transmission problem affecting 2005-2010 Accords, Elements and CR-Vs.
The UK’s Financial Times (subscription required) noted it was one of Honda’s largest recalls ever, “equivalent in size to 70 per cent of the 3.5m vehicles that Honda sold last year.”
Why is this happening to the “once proud” leader in small cars? For years, Honda (and the Civic in particular) was the one to beat, the best-engineered, best-made, best-selling. Now it’s being seriously challenged by, of all companies, Hyundai, formerly producer of some of the world’s worst-made cars.
Now, cars like the Elantra (right) are nipping at the Civic’s heels, because Hyundai is on a roll and Honda appears to be the victim of cost-cutting. And/or it’s gotten lazy and arrogant.
Honda is rapidly becoming the old-style GM of Japan and may be on the way to losing its brand equity. Yet it still has enormous marketing clout in the U.S. and around the world, with legions of fans.
Recalls in and of themselves don’t signify poor quality, but they can illustrate a pattern. Ford last week recalled some 1.2 million F-Series pickups and has been taking heat for a transmission problem in Mustangs.
Whether and how quickly Honda responds to the strong signals of deteriorating quality and value will tell the tale. So far, in the last two years, it has been squandering its reputation.
Will Honda emerge from its recent troubles and regain its position as world leader in small cars?