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Driving It Home

The new Honda Civic in for a dogfight Add to ...

Next week Honda Canada will start selling the 2012 Honda Civic, an all-new, ninth-generation version of Canada's best-selling car for the last 13 years.

Here's the question: Will it be for 14 years?

Details remain secret, but for months Honda has been promising a revolutionary ninth-generation Civic, one that will raise compact-car standards for innovative technology. It better be.

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Honda needs a juicier Civic to beat back challenges from a growing array of very good competitors - new or refreshed ones such as General Motors' Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla and Kia Forte. The worry for Honda is that its newer models have failed to find much traction in the market.

For instance, sales of the CR-Z sporty hybrid and Accord Crosstour crossover have been disappointing to say the least. The Accord Crosstour has seriously lagged the rival Toyota Venza, though Toyota Canada sells a far more comprehensive array of Venzas. Honda sells only expensive, V-6 Accord Crosstours. Honda's Insight hybrid has not touched the Toyota Prius hybrid in terms of sales success and the CR-Z has not established its niche so far.

"A lot of people have suggested that Honda is coasting," Aaron Bragman, a senior analyst with IHS Automotive, said during the Detroit auto show. "Recently, they haven't been the successful innovator they were once known for being."

Ouch.

The new Civic's job is to somehow bridge the expectations of older, existing Civic owners - baby boomer loyalists - with younger, newer buyers looking for a stylish compact car at an affordable price. Rumour has it that Honda Canada is planning to launch the new Civic touting a very comprehensive "value" story.

Honda will also launch multiple versions of the Civic, including a new hybrid variant that will use for the first time a lithium-ion battery pack. Also look for standard coupe and sedan versions, and a sporty Si. Four new Honda Civic models arriving almost at once is unprecedented and an indication of how serious Honda is with this launch.

This Civic will also answer another question: Does Honda still have the golden touch? Honda is hardly a disaster, but many feel the company has been drifting in recent years - losing ground to revived rivals such as Ford Motor with its new Focus and Hyundai with its new Elantra, to name two. Even Honda officials concede that recent "niche" models such as the CR-Z have failed to fire anybody's imagination.

"They need a hit," Ed Kim, director of industry analysis for consultant AutoPacific said in Detroit at the show. "Honda no longer has the edge. In efficiency, technology and design, they are no longer the leader."

The Civic is there to re-establish Honda as the leader in passenger cars in Canada. I expect Honda to come out swinging with the new Civic - to push hard touting every aspect of the car. Design, technology, performance, fuel economy and value will all be part of the story you'll hear from Honda Canada.

If there is a wild card in all this it is the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan that is limiting production of Honda vehicles around the world due to a number of factors, including parts shortages. Jerry Chenkin, Honda Canada executive vice-president, says Honda Canada dealers will have only about half the normal supply of Civics on the ground for an all-new model launch.

He also says Honda will do everything it can to ramp up Civic production as soon as possible and is counting on loyal Honda buyers to understand the desperate situation facing Japan and its industrial giants such as Honda. But these events are largely out of Honda's hands.

Meanwhile, Honda's competitors are poised to take advantage of a lack of Civic supply and that means a 14th year of the Civic being Canada's best-selling car may be in jeopardy. Honda is very competitive, though, and no one should expect this car company to give up without quite a fight.

For the new car buyer that can mean only one thing: lower prices as the various car companies duke it out for your money.

 

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