The power of pipedreams: Honda went seriously Rip Van Winkle in 2008. Things just haven’t been the same since
Today, Honda is a shadow of its former self. Not nearly as good, or as successful, as Hyundai. Or Mazda. Or Subaru. If you’re in the market for a car, Honda is, sadly, a ‘don’t buy’. Here’s why.
You remember Honda. Back in the 1990s: Honda was Japan’s version of BMW. An apparently unstoppable powerhouse of automotive innovation. The inventor of V-TEC - variable valve timing. Brilliant. The incredible NSX - just awesome. A Japanese Ferrari - the great automotive oxymoron.
Twenty years ago Type R Civics and Preludes were the progenitors of today’s hot hatches. Affordable, engaging, raw, edgy performers. And then the global financial crisis came along and cut off Honda’s balls. Understandably, with its nuts in formaldehyde, up on the mantle piece, all Honda’s done since is mope around the house.
And you still want to buy one. Time to think again.
Honda Sales, Australia: 2007-2014
Honda's sales have crashed. Here in Australia in 2007 Honda’s sales surged through the 60,000 barrier for the first time, and the company seemed unstoppable. Then the financial crisis hit. Honda cut all expenditure. That’s when both nuts went in the jar. They pulled out of F1 racing late in 2008 - team boss Ross Brawn led a management buyout that would ultimately become the Mercedes-Benz team, and they started winning races. Amazingly enough.
The point is, Honda - world’s largest manufacturer of internal combustion engines - stopped innovating in 2008. Buying a Honda today is like buying a mothballed seven-year-old new car. In Australia, sales have halved. 60,000 sales in 2007. 30,000 in 2011. Almost 33,000 last year. In the United States, Honda’s sales plunged after 2007 - but today they’re just about back where they were - in other words, a slump followed by zero net growth for seven long years. You can imagine what the R&D budget looks like, right?
Here in Australia, Honda got overtaken by Hyundai in 2009. Today, Hyundai out-sells Honda three to one. And it’s not just sales: Hyundai vehicles are objectively superior products. Objectively - meaning evidence-based, objective criteria. Stuff you can measure. Not opinion. That kind of superior. Volkswagen overtook Honda in Australia in 2011. So did Subaru.
Here’s just one example of the implications of zero innovation: There is not a single direct-injection petrol engine on sale in any Honda vehicle in Australia. It’s a disgrace. A comprehensive fall from grace. The 2.4-litre Honda engine in CR-V, et al, needs its tits revved off to make the same power that Mazda’s 2.5 makes in the CX-5, but at 1300 revs lower.
The Mazda engine delivers 13 per cent more peak torque at lower revs, as well as 15 per cent better fuel economy. And you get a six-speed auto in the Mazda, with Honda still stuck on five. And the Mazda is made in Japan. Honda: Thailand. And they’re the same price. It’s a pretty easy choice.
Engine: 2.4-litre petrol 4cyl
Fuel: 91 RON std unleaded
Peak power: 140 kw @ 7000 rpm
Peak torque: 222 Nm @ 4400 rpm
Economy: 8.7 L/100km (combined)
Service: 6 mths or 10,000 km
Engine: 2.5-litre petrol 4cyl
Fuel: 91 RON std unleaded
Peak power: 138 kw @ 5700 rpm
Peak torque: 250 Nm @ 4000 rpm
Economy: 7.4 L/100km (combined)
Service: 12 mths or 10,000 km
Mazda CX-5 review >>
Same disparity between Honda and the best in diesel. Hyundai-Kia’s cracking 2.2 diesel makes 32 per cent more peak power than Honda's, at lower revs. And 25 per cent more peak torque, also at lower revs. The Hyundai-Kia 2.2 makes about 30 per cent more power across the entire range of revs you would ever drive at.
So much for the power of dreams. Here, what we’re looking at is the power of dreaming about innovation versus the power derived from actually getting off your arse and innovating. Big difference.
CR-V is outdated, but at least it's an outdated decent SUV - not a complete lemon like the Holden Captiva >>
More information on the difference between petrol and diesel engines >>
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel 4cyl
Peak power: 110 kw @ 4000 rpm
Peak torque: 350 Nm @ 2000-2750 rpm
Economy: 6.9 L/100km (combined)
Service: 6 mths or 10,000 km
HYUNDAI SANTA FE
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel 4cyl
Peak power: 145 kw @ 3800 rpm
Peak torque: 436 Nm @ 1800-2500 rpm
Economy: 7.3 L/100km (combined)
Service: 12 mths or 15,000 km
Hyundai Santa Fe review >>
What the sales slump does to you
When sales crash, it has a direct effect on you - the owner. Dealerships are all multi-franchised these days. One dealer sells multiple brands. He might have Honda, Hyundai, Holden, Volkswagen and Audi. Every dealer has limited resources, and those resources tend to get allocated to the brands that are on fire. The ones that make money. So let’s say you’ve got Dealer ‘A’ with all those brands, with a limited budget for technician training. How many technicians do you suppose he sends to Hyundai’s technical training? How many do you suppose he sends to Honda’s? Hyundai out-sells Honda three-to-one. How much Honda spare parts inventory do you suppose he carries? Bad news for you, if you buy a Honda. Sales are directly related to logistic, in-service support.
Honda has lost the plot. If you buy an HR-V today, and you want inbuilt GPS - a reasonable request - you need an iPhone. If you’ve got a Galaxy or anything else, forget about it. How is that an example of well-thought-out design? Honda has officially killed the one decent vehicle left in the range - the Euro. They got blind people to do the styling on the forty-seventh remake of the Odyssey, apparently, and the fat-arsed 3.5 V6 Accord is even more irrelevant today than ever before (sales 42 per cent down, last year). And it’s always been something of a poster-boy for irrelevance. Fat lady’s on in five, apparently.
The entire Honda lineup in Australia is devoid of any passion. Toyota is more exciting - and that’s an expression you just don’t hear very often. There’s no enthusiasm, no innovation, and certainly no ‘wow’ factor. This is the way Japanese beancounters build cars.
Of course, Honda still pays lip service to innovation and the power of dreams. The marketing department steers fiction broadly towards fact, with rose-coloured Oakleys trained on the rear-view mirror. In 2013 Honda designed a tent for the CR-V. Amazingly, that didn’t exactly turn the Titanic around. The iceberg was - and still is - dead ahead. Here are some even more ill-conceived dreams.
Move over, Segue
And who could forget Honda’s gyroscopically stabilised Uni Cub Mobility Scooter? Hopefully, everybody.
The Uni Cub is a kind of vibrating electronic king penguin, upon whose beak you could squat, recreationally, when walking to meetings gets too darn tedious. Pretty much the fifty-first shade of grey in the personal mobility omnibus, right there.
Honey, I shrunk the HondaJet
Then there’s the HA-420 HondaJet. It’s the Honda Jazz of Corporate Jets. The Honda Fit of Lear Jets.
The HA-420 is the kind of corporate jet Noddy would buy if he ever puts on a lycra jumpsuit and dashes over to Marvel. The HA-420 is the $5 million corporate jet you buy when you can’t afford a real corporate jet. Cruising range: 2185 kilometres, which would make trans-Atlantic flight … kinda interesting.
And let’s not forget ASIMO - Honda’s almost-a-robot.
Allegedly Asimo stands for the Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, and it’s absolutely not just a cheap Japanese attempt to step up to the line of trademark infringement apropos of the father of sci-fi robotics’ surname. (Isaac Asimov.) Honda’s thermoplastic spastic is currently in its eleventh generation. It's still a pair of bionic legs with a PC on top - but these days it's a pair of bionic legs with a humanoid-shaped PC on top (important distinction).
The ASIMO is a four-foot-three-inch battery-powered dimwit that can run in a circle at five kilometres per hour. (We all went to school with a kid like that...)
If only Snow White had known. There would have been eight dwarfs: Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey ... and Useless.
In 2008, the previous ASIMO conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in a performance of The Impossible Dream - an oddly prophetic (even artificially intelligent, or at least artificially prescient) undertaking, in the circumstances. Nostradamus was proud. (Think about it...)
This is undoubtedly the most intelligent thing ASIMO has ever done. ASIMO has been with Honda for fifteen years, and he’s still about as useful as an ashtray on a Harley-Davidson. One day we might see him in the mail room. Possibly humping the photocopier.
Still, I guess tweaking a mentally retarded robot is in a sense more interesting than working on a six-speed automatic gearbox, or direct injection protocols for previous-generation passenger car petrol engines.
CONCLUSION: HONDA IS A 'DON'T BUY'
If you want a new car, buy a Mazda. Philosophically, Mazda today is what Honda was, 20 years ago. Hyundai builds superior vehicles, that are also better value. Subaru is in front too. If Honda’s dream-powered testicles hadn’t been extracted from the scrotum of its research and development department, by the blunt force trauma of the GFC and an ASIMO-like boardroom mindset, imagine what Honda would have developed by now.
Voltaire said men are guilty of the good they fail to do. Maybe the same accusation can be levelled at companies that turn off their capacity to innovate and excite. Honda still does a pretty decent lawnmower. It’s the best I can offer.
If you want to save thousands on what will be, objectively, a better car than a Honda, contact me via the red link above.