Honda Delays Next-Generation Civic
By Chris Haak
Many auto-industry watchers have been wondering the fate of several new models that never made public auto-show debuts in production form (or in some cases, in any form), in spite of being due for a refresh, either based on their standard life cycles or on previous announcements. One of those mysteries will be answered Friday, when Chrysler finally officially reveals its 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has already begun production.
Another is the fate of the next-generation Honda Civic. Honda’s cars typically have five-year life cycles, and the current Civic was launched for the 2006 model year, so should be all-new for the 2011 model year (meaning it’s due in fall 2010 according to the pattern). John Mendel, Honda of America’s executive vice president, told Automotive News in an interview the reason why we haven’t heard anything until now: the next Civic – the car’s ninth generation – has been delayed until sometime in 2011. Mendel cited changing market conditions and tougher fuel economy and emissions regulations as the reason for the delay.
He also denied that Honda is changing cycles – in other words, moving the Civic’s typical life cycle from five years to six years. Such a move would likely be counterproductive to one of Honda’s bread-and-butter best sellers. Generally, longer model cycles require higher incentive spending in the final years of the model’s life, muting the effect of any savings that might be seen in sticking with the old car longer. The higher incentives result in lower residual values at trade-in time, and harm another of Honda’s traditional selling points.
One of Honda’s traditional selling points is quite likely a major reason behind the delay: fuel economy. “Market conditions” could obviously be the financial crisis (and subsequent auto-industry depression) of the past few years, but also could be interpreted as, “the Civic needs to grab fuel-economy leadership back from its competitors before trotting out a new model.” New cars such as the Chevrolet Cruze Eco and Ford Fiesta are now topping the current Civic’s fuel economy numbers with their 40 mile per gallon (US) highway rating, and helping their respective manufacturers’ CAFE compliance for 2016, when the fleet average must hit 35.5 miles per gallon. The 2010 Civic is rated no higher than 36 mpg on the highway with the 1.8 liter base engine. The Civic Hybrid is rated at 45 mpg on the highway, but hybrid fuel economy doesn’t really help the majority of buyers who do not opt for the extra cost and complexity. (Incidentally, a 1995 Civic VX hatchback was rated at an adjusted 39 city/50 highway; its unadjusted window sticker showed a Prius-beating 47/56).
CAFE (and carbon-emission limits elsewhere in the world) directly relates to the consumer-visible fuel economy numbers on the Monroney sticker affixed to the Civic’s window. Honda has some very talented engineers on its staff, and I’m optimistic that, given resources and time, should be able to raise the bar on fuel economy, in spite of the next car likely growing in size and weight, and in power.