I don’t know for sure. But I’ve been alive for 34 years, and I can’t remember a small car seriously challenging either iconic nameplate. The Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Volkswagen Jetta and a few others have sold reasonably well, but never enough to knock the Civic and Corolla off the top of the mountain.
Certainly no American car has ever come close. But that was before a series of unfortunate events for one company contributed to the sudden rise of what could be a new American king of the mountain.
First, we should quickly recap the problems Honda has faced this year. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan earlier this year were horrific and had a major impact on the company’s production capabilities. Now, flooding in Thailand is taking another toll. In fact, Honda says “virtually zero” 2012 Civics are available on dealer lots in the States. On top of the natural disasters and production shortages, the Civic lost its “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports due to questionable cost-cutting measures. Reviews across the board are poor, and consumers are disappointed in its quality. Even if dealers’ lots were overflowing with Civics, there’s no guarantee people would buy them. There’s no doubt Honda is in a tough spot right now, something the company’s chief financial officer recently admitted to the Huffington Post.
Last month, Toyota led the sales pack by finding homes for 16,244 new Corollas. Honda still managed to sell 16,173 Civics. If that number stagnates the rest of the year, the third-place contender will have a shot to duke it out with the Corolla for top honors. That car is none other than the new Chevrolet Cruze, which sold 14,295 copies last month.
This could be the year an American compact sedan finally outsells its Japanese competition. The question is, once Honda gets back on its feet, can the Cruze still compete? Which compact car would you buy?