If you've been waiting to buy the reinvented 2012 Honda CR-V, you're going to twiddle your thumbs longer than expected.
The new CR-V, a consistent top-10 best seller in Canada among light trucks, will not hit dealerships in December as planned. This is because Honda is slashing production at its six North American plants by 50 per cent starting tomorrow and running through Nov 10. All factories will be out of production Nov. 11, too.
Honda, the third-biggest Japanese car maker by volume after Toyota Motor and Nissan Motor, has already suffered serious damage caused by a similar shutdown in the wake of the March 11 earthquake in Japan. That natural disaster, along with a strong yen and weaknesses in Honda's model lineup, resulted in vehicle sales in North America and Japan plunging by 27 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.
Automotive News is reporting that Honda has told dealers that vehicle production "will remain stalled at 70 per cent of capacity through December."
Remarkably, Honda still made some serious dough in the three months ended Sept. 30 – just under $800-million. But that was less than half what Honda earned in the same quarter a year ago.
"Frankly speaking, there's nothing we can do," Honda Chief Financial Officer Fumihiko Ike said at a news conference on Monday, commenting on the latest earnings report.
One thing Honda can do is fix the widely panned 2012 Civic compact – and then do something about how the company's vehicles are marketed. A plan is in the works on both fronts.
American Honda executive vice-president John Mendel told Automotive News that the company plans a mid-cycle update in 2013, perhaps as much as a year ahead of what would normally be a spring 2014 refresh. Look for Honda to replace the Civic's "cheap, hard-plastic instrument panel and centre console," as Automotive News has noted along with other car reviewers. Honda also needs to reduce cabin noise levels.
The goal for Honda should be to reclaim a place on Consumer Reports' "recommended" list – CR called the new Civic "cheap" and "insubstantial" – and to answer critics who have called the car a "betrayal," as Dan Neil did in The Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, former Chrysler Canada marketing boss Mike Accavitti has joined Honda in the United States to sharpen the company's messaging and marketing. The incomprehensible commercials featuring zombies and wrestlers and various monsters are being replaced with spots that showcase the car's attributes in clear, understandable ways.
Honda cannot do anything about natural disasters, but it can get back to creating desirable vehicles and communicating their characteristics in understandable ways. Honda fans can only hope that the traumas of 2011 will refocus the company on what matters most for any car maker – product, product, product.