In the land of all things super-sized, the Honda Civic competes in a segment which the Americans refer to as ‘compact.’ US car companies have reported their sales figures for the month of June and critics of the Civics are not going to like this post.
Far from falling from its grace, the Civic has overtaken the Toyota Corolla as the segment’s best selling model, a title that the Civic has held since April this year.
In the month of June alone, Honda sold 27,500 units of Civics, three percent more than the second placed Toyota Corolla. Compared to the same month last year, sales for the Civic rose 57 percent.
In the six months cumulative sales for 2012 table, the Honda Civic leads the ranking with 162,58 units sold to date, well ahead of the second place Toyota Corolla (151,726 units).
While the new Civic maybe the least popular among car enthusiasts, it is on its way to become the most successful Civic of all time. The Civic’s June 2012 sales figures broke its previous monthly sales record of 20,723 units registered in May 2008.
The result is what Honda had in mind in designing the new ninth generation Civic, to move away from the boy racers, make it less edgy and more appealing to a wider group of buyers, the same formula that Toyota perfected so well for its ‘boring’ Corolla.
In doing so, the backlash from motoring press, who may sometimes be out of touch with the requirements of actual buyers and evaluate cars on a very different set of criteria, and criticism from vocal car enthusiasts is to be expected.
While it alienated traditional Honda fans, the gamble is that actual car buyers, people who get off their keyboards and actually put their money down for a car will hook on to the new Civic’s more grown up character. It was a gamble that is paying off very well for Honda.
In the past, the best selling passenger cars (including MPVs, SUVs but not pick-up trucks) in the US is a contest between the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.
The Civic is turning the hierarchy upside down, with the smaller Civic overtaking the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima to become the second best selling passenger car in the US.
It’s also an indicator of the growing downsizing trend in many developed markets. To be fair, there is also a factor of both the Accord and Altima are ageing models due for replacement. The new Altima just went on sale in June this year. A new generation Accord is expected to debut later this year.
The Civics interior was widely panned, especially by bloggers and the American media, but as the numbers show, the whole issue about interior plastics is not as important as American motoring journalists and trigger happy bloggers making rash conclusions with no experience in the car make it out to be.
Unlike European buyers, American consumers don’t put that much importance on vehicle interior trim material.
It’s the same in Japan. The best selling car in Japan is a Toyota Aqua (Prius c), and we all know how spartan is the Prius c’s interior.
Over in Malaysia, waiting period for the Prius c is close to six months, and the only reason the ‘cheap plastics-ville’ finished interior Prius c lost out to the Jazz Hybrid on the Malaysian sales charts was because Toyota couldn’t make them fast enough to fulfill its order bank. The best selling entry level luxury sedan, the BMW 3-series is far from being the byword in interior quality compared to its other German brethren. So is the interior really that important for Malaysians in general? It will be an interesting study.
In short, the Civic is a strong performer, even in the second largest car market in the world. It survived repeated crucifixion by certain factions in the motoring media and came out even stronger than before, as if negative motoring reviews don’t make any difference.
The Civic is not as bad as Internet forums and blogs make it out to be, but neither is it the best in its segment anymore. That we can agree.
However, as one auto industry executive told me, it is not that the Civic has regressed, but that other competing models have progressed a lot. The ninth generation Civic will still be good enough to hold on to its lead, but just good enough.
There is a danger that this will be the last Civic for its buyers. There are some very capable alternatives from Kia, Hyundai and VW on the market.
Five years ago, a Volkswagen model won’t even register in the top-10 in the US compact car market, while Hyundai can only go stronger.
The ninth generation Civic will be launching in Malaysia this week. Stay tuned.