For Honda, Next Accord Must be a Hit

Accord_grille
Randy LeBlanc has owned a Honda Accord for more than 20 years. A 41-year-old real-estate agent in New Orleans' suburbs, LeBlanc bought his first Accord, a used 1988 model, in the early 1990s. He replaced it with a brand-new Accord in 2001. Some 125,000 miles later, LeBlanc and his wife are looking for another sedan.

LeBlanc says he's 90 percent sure it won't be a Honda.

He's shopped Toyota, Hyundai and Kia lately, and when I spoke with him last week, he was leaning toward Toyota. LeBlanc says Honda requires moving up too many trim levels to get features like Bluetooth, and the Accord is too noisy.

Noise "has been a knock on Honda for how many years now," LeBlanc asks. "It doesn't seem to be a concern of theirs. I don't anticipate them to be any different [in the future]."

Honda rolled out standard Bluetooth for some newer models like the redesigned CR-V. And any car with six figures on the odometer — like LeBlanc's '01 Accord — won't be silent as a library on the highway. But he has a point. A four-cylinder Accord EX placed fifth out of eight in Cars.com's $25,000 Family Sedan Shootout two years ago, with road noise a recurring complaint. Even today's Accord requires stepping up to the leather-clad EX-L trim for Bluetooth.

So LeBlanc will likely jump ship. He isn't the only one: Shoppers by the thousands are choosing competitors over the Accord, once a must-drive for anyone shopping family cars.

Experts point to a number of reasons for this. Inventory shortages after Japan's earthquake affected sales through the end of 2011. But the issues go beyond inventory. The Accord's position atop the family-sedan segment — in a perpetual rivalry with the Toyota Camry — could shift if Honda doesn't chart the right course.

A redesigned 2013 Accord hits dealerships this fall. It remains under wraps, but Honda foreshadowed it in January with the Accord coupe concept. The redesign will be smaller and lighter, Honda says, with a host of crash-avoidance technology and a reprisal of the Accord Hybrid. The competition, however, is fiercer than ever. Honda needs to make up lost ground in a lot of areas to retain owners like LeBlanc and pick up some new ones.

Falling Sales
The Camry has owned the family-car segment since 2001, when the Accord last beat it out. Honda strung together nine years at No. 2, but then hamstrung by low inventory after Japan's earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the Accord slipped to No. 3, bested by the Camry and Nissan Altima. It took until early December for Honda to sort out inventory issues.

But sales continued to fall. The automaker threw upwards of $1,000 in dealer cash atop discount financing to keep interest in the 5-year-old car, but the competition ratcheted up its appeal to match. J.D. Power and Associates data show nearly a quarter of Accord buyers cross-shop the Camry; about one in five shop the Altima. A redesigned Camry steamed into dealerships last October, and by spring, Nissan had thrown up to $2,250 on the aging Altima's hood. It worked: Sales through March boomed 39% for the Altima and 37% on the Camry. In the same span, the Accord fell 8%.

Put another way, one in every 6.7 family cars sold a year ago was an Accord. Today that's fallen to around one in 10. The Accord isn't in second place anymore. It's slipped to fourth, falling behind the Ford Fusion which will also be redesigned this year.

Accord’s Share of Family Cars
Year                    Percent of segment    Rank (cars ahead)
2007                    17.5                        2 (Camry)
2008                    17.7                        2 (Camry)
2009                    17.7                        2 (Camry)
2010                    18.0                        2 (Camry)
2011                    13.6                        3 (Camry, Altima)
2012 (Jan.-Mar.)    10.4                        4 (Camry, Altima, Fusion)

Includes variants reported in the same sales group (e.g., Passat CC or Camry Solara). Midsize/Family cars in this time span include the Chevrolet Malibu/Classic, Chrysler Sebring/200, Dodge Stratus/Avenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Mercury Milan, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Pontiac G6, Saturn Aura, Subaru Legacy, Suzuki Verona/Kizashi, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat.
Source: Automotive News data

No Alarms Just Yet
Honda spokesman Chris Martin says the Accord's slow sales this year are "absolutely a concern, but you have to look at the competitive marketplace and the fact that Camry just had a full model change, [Hyundai] Sonata had a full model change in 2011, [Kia] Optima had a full model change in 2011. The [Volkswagen] Passat entered the marketplace as an actual, credible contender. So if you look five years ago, a lot of these people weren't playing seriously."

That means staying near the top will be harder than ever.

"You're going to be fighting for buzz with Altima and Fusion, and the rest of the [Chevrolet] Malibus will start coming out," AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan said.

Martin disagrees. He says there's no "zero sum game" in sales for the segment, and the flurry of redesigns will pull new shoppers in. A rising tide, in effect, can lift all sedans.

Sales for what AutoPacific calls the Premium Midsize Segment — the Accord, Camry, Fusion, Malibu and eight others — will increase 16.3% between 2011 and 2013, with six redesigned cars fighting for pieces of that expansion, according to the firm. The Accord should gain 10.4% over the same period, a percentage AutoPacific predicts the Camry and Altima to beat. Honda will see some new buyers, but it remains to be seen whether they're enough to satisfy the automaker.

Significant Revamp Needed
A big question revolves around exactly how different the next Accord will be considering current owners like LeBlanc have become disillusioned.

We've only seen the Accord coupe concept while competitors like Nissan and Ford have gone the full monty on their redesigns. The Altima and Fusion will sport impressive mileage numbers to match the new designs. Honda won't likely reveal mileage figures about the new Accord until the day it goes on sale if previous history is any indication.

Honda has a habit of being secretive about its new models, but perhaps it should have made an exception this year while shoppers compare the new Altima, new Fusion, new Malibu, Camry, Sonata and Optima before making a purchase decision. And there's four more months before Honda plans to release the information on the Accord. That's a lot of research being done that will likely exclude the Accord entirely.

Civic or CR-V?
Honda stumbled with the redesigned Civic, which we've dinged for its cheap interior and subpar handling. Sales improved 19% for the nameplate through March, but that outpaced the market's increase by just 6% — and some of it came thanks to dealer incentives, which a redesigned car shouldn't need. Compare it to Honda's shining star, the redesigned CR-V crossover, whose sales are up 30% with zero incentives in just as competitive a segment.

Will the next Accord be a Civic or a CR-V? We'll find out this fall. Honda's Martin says he's confident the 2013 Accord will put Honda "back into a segment leadership position in many areas."

"We are bringing a four-cylinder engine with direct-injection and all-new CVT transmission," he said. "We're going to have a very powerful and efficient [V-6] engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. So [the] '13 Accord is going to make some major strides in fuel economy and feature content and level of technology and safety."

Honda doesn't have much choice but to make major strides if it wants to woo LeBlanc and those like him back to the Accord.

Comments 

sheth

why is the success of the accord such a big deal? No car is entitled to a certain level of sales. The competition is tougher and someone had to lose share. I find it amazing that a simple truth was avoided: the accord
Simply isn't superior to the competition these days. That is probably the most logical explanation for loss of market share . I also find it interesting that the Honda representative who is quoted doesn't seem to consider the domestic cars to be notable competitors worth mentioning. That's part of Hondas problem.

Rich

The article asks, "Will the next Accord be a Civic or a CR-V? “

The answer should be neither. The Civic looks cheap and was widely panned. The CR-V is hideous and selling on utility alone.

The new Accord needs to have world-class design and in-demand standard features, like the Fusion or Sonata.

sheth

I don't see any big difference between the civic and crv since they both seem conservative to me. Neither advances their segment in any way. They break no new ground and barely seem new.

Adam

This article hits the nail directly on the head. Owned 2 Preludes and currently have a 2002 Accord. My next purchase isn't going to be a Honda, they have sadly lost their way. I am however very anxious to see the new Accord, but have been frustrated this year as the Fusion, Altima and Malibu have been revealed and we still have nothing to go on except the incredibly tame Accord coupe concept, which almost looks like a refresh of the current car and not a remodel.

M

The Accord needs a lot of work. I used to be a HUGE Honda fan and owned a 1999 Accord EX which I loved. Not the case anymore. The new one is no longer fun to drive, it's noisy, and the design is awful. I feel the interior of my '99 Accord was way better quality than the current one. The current one feels cheap and fragile. I seen the redesigned Accord coupe and can't really see the difference. Honda needs to put more effort into their cars because they are falling behind. If the new Accord coupe is any indication of what the sedan will be like, Honda is in big trouble. By the way, I replaced the Accord with a 2012 Altima 3.5 SR, and I can tell you it blows the Accord away!

Dan

I would have to agree, Honda needs to get its game together, quickly too. I traded my 2006 Milan in for a 2009 Accord, big mistake. The Accord had so much road noise and was not as refined as the Mercury. It is hard to understand Honda's direction, they used to be such great cars. They can no longer sale cars based on reliabilty.

sheth

I don't think honda s are any worse than they used to be. It's just that they don't take any risks when it compares to design and technology and now the competition has surpassed them. Honda products are the same as they have always been. problem is people wasn't more than reliability these days. If you need proof look at how Chrysler has been doing lately. In spite of all the bad press they get in terms of reliability they have been outperforming the market.

Friend

I have had three Accords: 1991, 2007 and 2007. I drove the 91 to 265K and handed it off to my sister when I graduated from college and could afford the 2007.

The 2007 was rear ended by a Jeep Cherokee and sustained $11K in damages; the car was never right after that. I traded it in for the 2009. I wish I still had my 2007. This 2009 uses lower quality materials, does not drive as sporty, and has constant squeaky brakes. I can't imagine anyone actually using this car when it has as many miles as my 91' did when I gave it to my sister.

I'm hoping Honda gets it together on the next generation Accord. It'll take something special to keep me in the family.

Friend

That above comment was supposed to start off, "I've had three Accords: 1991, 2007 and 2009." Yeah... I wish I still had a 2007. Wishful thinking I guess.

Wow.

You've summed it up well, Friend. Honda has lost its way. I look at the interior quality of my 2000 Civic versus the new Civics and my 2000 is much higher quality.

I think part of the problem is that manufacturers are having to cut corners in an effort to keep their vehicles affordable for the US market, where wages have been stagnant for years.

I was looking at a mid 90s Civic hatchback in the parking lot of the grocery store yesterday and thinking how I'd buy another one of those in a heartbeat (if they still made 'em)! Today's Hondas? Meh, not so much...

Stuart

i sold my new accord in two years, worst brakes ever, got the the kia optima sx, if u get that you will curse accord

Random

I have owned in the past 5 years, three Toyota Camry (2007, 2008 and 2009), two Nissan Altima (2010 and 2011), one VW Passat (2012), one Honda Accord (2012). Having driven all these, my opinion is that neither Nissan, nor Toyota come close to the quality of a redesigned Passat or the 2012 Honda Accord. Camry was a decent car, but watch out every time you go over a speed bump - I thought that I lost a wheel, due to the very clumsy suspension it carries. Also, this car is just not made out of good materials -- consider this, a simple push on its sheet metal doors could leave a major dent on it.
Nissan Altima, though, is a very nice car - smooth and has power, when you need it, due to the CVT. Fantastic fuel economy. Inside is dull, but pragmatic. Now, Honda has a different feel to it - very reliable, good handling on the road and good fuel economy. None of these though come even close to the road handling and drive quality of a VW Passat - and I used to dislike German cars, because of their high prices.

In sum, I think, having purchased quite a few vehicles in the mid-size sedan segment in the past four years, that VW Passat is the best value currently, closely followed by Honda/ Nissan.

I also disagree with the prior comments that one needs all the new electronics, in order to make Honda attractive - after all, I buy a car to go from point A to point B, not to watch a movie, talk on the phone, or distract myself in any other way, while I do it -- cars are to drive (safely so), if you need entertainment, simply do not drive and stay home in front of your computer/ TV.

Chris

I bought a brand new Hyundai Sonata SE 2007 and drove it for 4 years. It was awesome. Once I had over 100K miles on it, I traded the car. Since I drive about 70-80 miles a day to work, I wanted something reliable - that won't cause me much trouble. I went for the 2009 Accord. Oh boy! What a mistake!

The Accord 2009 is extremely noisy. I get exhausted after driving it for a while on the freeway. The seats are very uncomfortable. The ride is extremely rough.

Honda's intention may have been to make the Accord a sporty car. Yes, they got it right. This certainly is not a family car. I can't see how a family car can have such uncomfortable and noisy ride quality. I will see the car as soon as I build some equity on it. I don't think I will ever buy an Accord again.

Michael F

Honda stumbled in the mid-2000's. I loved my '76 Accord HB and '96 Civic Coupe, but I bought a Suzuki SX4. It's what a Fit crossed with a Element could be, at a price Honda's used to cost.

James

Honda is CRAP now,not what they used to be;don't waste your money.

Belly

Honda is GOOD, just as good as it ever was and better than anything else out there; spend your money wisely, buy a Honda.

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