Over its nearly 40-year run, the Honda Civic has become synonymous with reliability, affordability, and value. In fact, the Civic is so ubiquitous on American streets that it's become nearly invisible.
Then the 2012 Civic rolled out, and people started to notice -- but not in the good way. Today, Honda says it's working to address the 2012 Civic's critics with a makeover, and according to a report in Automotive News, it could come a full year ahead of schedule.
The Honda Civic has never been the most fashion-forward car on the lots, but then again, it hasn't needed to be. The Civic has staked its reputation on conservative, functional design and respectable performance that nearly everyone can afford. And of course, it's benefited from the Honda name, which means "durability" to many shoppers. As a result, it's become the leading compact model in retail sales.
When Honda began planning the 2012 Civic back in 2009, the world's economies were in free-fall -- and this is where the problems began. Honda's CEO, Takanobu Ito, was unable to see past the financial climate of the day, and he brought the Civic's redesign to a screeching halt. The new model's wheelbase got shortened, and its feature set diminished to keep the sticker price down for cost-conscious consumers.
Today, the world's economies are wobbling back toward normalcy. Though family finances aren't what they should be, people are still buying cars, and they want bang for their buck. So when the 2012 Civic rolled out in April, with its bland styling and cheap, plastic dashboard, few people were impressed.
Critics panned the 2012 Civic, with the Wall Street Journal going so far as to call it "a betrayal". (We awarded it a pretty lousy 6.8 out of 10.) Customers gave it a spin, but demand quickly tapered off once they'd sat in it. Poorly written advertising didn't help.
Moral #1: Few people want to drive a cheap-feeling car.
Moral #2: Have an English teacher give your nationwide ad campaign the once-over.
The bad press surrounding the 2012 Civic isn't going unnoticed at Honda HQ. In fact, John Mendel, executive vice president for American Honda, said that the company has heard the Civic's critics and is looking for ways to address their concerns. He went on to say that while the current Civic wouldn't ordinarily see a facelift before 2014, the process has been fast-tracked, and the refreshed model could appear on lots as soon as early 2013.
How Honda will pull that off in such a relatively short timeframe remains to be seen. The company has been working hard to recover from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that severely disrupted its activities in Japan back in March and delayed the rollout of the 2012 Civic. Now Honda has shuttered facilities in Thailand due to the country's massive floods, and they may not open again for six months. Combined with the slow recovery of some auto markets, these facts may explain why Honda's shares have slipped 22% since August and why the company has scrapped its current financial forecasts.
It's interesting to compare Honda's response to criticism of the 2012 Civic with its response to attacks on the 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour. When the latter debuted on Facebook in September 2009, Honda fans were outraged, calling it one of the ugliest cars they'd seen. Honda said it was "listening", but its responses didn't prove it. Honda reps tried to explain the new model by saying that the pics on Facebook didn't do it justice, and in the end, the Crosstour isn't for everyone. So there.
Two years later, Honda's tone is decidedly different, and customers should see results. What caused the change? Did Honda finally realize the power of the web and social media? Or is the company taking criticism of the Civic more seriously because it's Honda's bread and butter? Only Ito and his team know for sure, but we'd be surprised if it weren't a little of both.