2012 Honda Civic sedan
2012 Honda Civic sedanEnlarge Photo
New Honda Civic misses many targets, all best-of lists
Honda may have right to expect the usual warm welcome for its new 2012 Civic. After all, the Civic's been one of the most lauded cars in history, with dozens of best-of wins under its belt and a standing reservation on most car of the year nominee lists. Not so this year: the revamped model line has better fuel economy, but a notably thrifty interior, a less refined engine and unimproved handling, major mishaps in a day of Elantras, Focuses and Cruzes. The list of publications that have unfriended the Civic run the gamut from The Car Connection, where it receives a 6.8 out of 10, to Car and Driver, which says simply, "the thrill is gone," to Consumer Reports, which no longer puts the Civic on its Recommended list. Civic sales are down this year, but Honda's doubled down on a new production line in Indiana--and is now rushing a 2013 update to fix the Civic's major competitive disadvantages.
Mother nature wrecks lives, takes Japan's auto industry offline
As we wrote back in March, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Japan and created a tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people, it's almost crass to talk about the lingering damage to the auto industry in the wake of the tremendous human loss. It's time to assess the lasting effects, however, since all the major Japanese automakers are now back online. Toyota and Honda sales were down sharply all summer, from parts shortages that were later amplified by flooding in Thailand, another source of components. For Toyota, the earthquake followed on the heels of its major recalls of 2009 and 2010, and came just as sales were beginning to revive. Have they lost customers permanently to Korea and Detroit? Japan may never be the same, but at least its standard-bearing industry is now back up to speed, and back in the sales battle in America.
2012 Chevrolet VoltEnlarge Photo
Voltgate: will it kill GM's halo car, or will it just go away?
General Motors has patiently nursed the Chevy Volt to life, but at every turn, some dingo wants to eat its baby. First shown as a concept car back in 2007, the extended-range electric Volt came to life in 2008 as a production-ready vehicle. Then GM went bankrupt, and got federal loans to stay in business and to build the Volt. That's all it took for the innovative green car to become a potent weapon, one used by politicians and media alike to beat up on post-bankruptcy GM. For every Car of the Year award it's won, the Chevrolet Volt has earned its share of scars and bruises, from post-crash fires in private hands and at the NHTSA, to lumpy production numbers that have turned its sales picture murky. Matt Drudge's idiotic, uninformed war against the Volt hasn't helped much, and neither has the Volt's uncomfortable seat at the center of the 2012 presidential campaign. On one level, the biggest car news story of 2011 is just a car, after all--but on so many other levels, it's part of a narrative that could exhaust GM's ability to sell itself as reborn, and reimagined.