Honda has a lot riding on its ninth-generation Accord as it goes on sale in showrooms across the country today just hours after Ford executives touted the forthcoming 2013 Fusion “blitzed major media markets,” as USA Today puts it. (See Karl Greenberg’s coverage of the Fusion-infused “Fashion's Night Out” earlier this month below).
“The fight for alpha-status in midsize sedans is about to get bloody,” write James R. Healey and Chris Woodyard in USA Today, pointing out that the Accord has not been the best-seller in the category for more than a decade. The Toyota Camry leads the pack. Other challengers include the Nissan Altima, Chevy Malibu, Volkswagen Passat, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
Mike Fischer, the production leader for the car and an associate chief engineer for Tokyo-based Honda, sees things a bit more ethereally from the trenches. “We understand this car is the halo vehicle for the company,” he tells Bloomberg’s Alan Ohnsman. “This car is one of those benchmark products that we expect to do extremely well in the market.”
As such, production is at a “benchmark pace” –- a record rate of 6,000 vehicles a week and rising at Honda’s Marysville, Ohio, plant, Ohnsman reports. Honda’s goal is to sell 350,000 of its new Accords annually in the U.S.
“Typically, some of our initial indicators for a production ramp-up are set for a three-month level,” says Fisher. “We’ve challenged ourselves to meet that in one month.”
“Few cars have left a mark on the auto industry as indelible as that of the Honda Accord,” writes the Los Angeles Times Jerry Hirsch, and this year the automaker is counting on it to lead “a comeback push that is crucial to the automaker's recovery from recent missteps in the U.S.” – notably, a critically unpopular redesign of the Civic last year.
“For 20-plus years, Honda has had a customer base that says, ‘I always buy an Accord, and that is all I will ever buy.’ But that is no longer true,’” Karl Brauer, editor of TotalCarScore.com tells Hirsch. “People, especially younger people, consider every car now.”
Honda’s overall U.S. market share slipped from 11% in 2009 to 9% last year, according to Autodata Corp. figures cited by Hirsch, although it has been faring strongly over the summer led by a sales increase of 60% last month.
Motor Trends’ Scott Evans, himself no fan of the redesigns of the Civic and CR-V, writes that Honda points out that sales of both are “up by healthy margins, despite being panned by the Motor Trends of the world. The Honda people say they know their customers, and give them what they want.”
Well then, fair enough. “If Honda's going to dance to its customers' tune and not ours, the billion-dollar question is simple: Is the new Accord any good?” Evans asks. “Yes, in fact,” he concludes, “it is.”
Dan Gearino of The Columbus Dispatch compiles excerpts from a few other glowing reviews of the Accord for his readers, some of whom no doubt work at the nearby Marysville plant. “The Accord is very strong, and personally I would consider it near the top of the class,” writes Erin Riches, a senior editor for Edmunds.com.
And Gearino points out that Consumer Reports, whose panning of the redesigned Civic contributed to “a tepid response for that vehicle,” was positive in its initial review. “The 2013 Honda Accord impresses on our first drive,” reads the headline over a story that goes on to say the Accord “should certainly hold its own in both the marketplace and, barring unforeseen surprises, in our ratings.”
Here’s USA Today’s Healey’s assessment of the Accord in the Detroit Free Press after taking the family sedan for a spin: “You can consider Accord sexier than a Toyota Camry, maybe less so than Nissan's new Altima. Not as zoomy-looking as a Hyundai Sonata, more daring than a Volkswagen Passat. Less Euro than the coming Ford Fusion, less American than the latest Chevrolet Malibu.”
We suspect Honda will be sticking with the “It Starts with You” tagline that kicks off this week with a “heavy” TV presence and “demonstrates how Honda's deep understanding of the customer allowed our engineers to perfect the midsize sedan in the new Accord,” as Mike Accavitti, vice president of automotive marketing at American Honda puts it. Time, and market share data, will tell if the customer is right.