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Honda tries to limit fallout from negative Civic review

August 4, 2011 |  9:38 am

Honda executives have gone into damage-control mode over a negative review of the automaker’s newly redesigned Civic sedan that appears in the September edition of Consumer Reports. Getprev

John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda Motor Co., sent an email to dealers earlier this week noting that, “sometimes you disagree even with those for whom you have the greatest respect. And it seems as if that is what has occurred with the Consumer Reports review of the 2012 Honda Civic LX.”

In his email to Honda dealers, Mendel said, “We fundamentally disagree with their suggestion that Civic doesn’t rank among their recommended small cars.” 

Mendel noted that the magazine lauded the Civic for its high fuel economy marks and safety features.

He also told dealers that, “among many other very positive reviews of the Civic lineup, Motor Trend magazine recently tested eight compact cars, including Civic. The respected auto enthusiast magazine -– which knows a thing or two about ride and handling –- ranked Civic second among eight compact cars in the comparison drive. Many would be thrilled with this result. However, we disagree with Motor Trend as well –- we think there is no better compact car than Civic."

The Civic was redesigned for the 2012 model year to better compete with new entrants in the competitive small car segment, including the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra.

The negative Consumer Reports' review of the Civic comes at a bad time for Honda. Its U.S. sales plunged 28.4% in July to 80,502 vehicles. And through the first seven months of this year, Honda’s share of the U.S. market has fallen to 9.3% from 10.6% in same period a year earlier. 

Part of the decline resulted from supply and production disruptions caused by the Japanese earthquake in March. But Honda also is facing increased competition in the compact and mid-sized sedan segments of the auto market, which it has long dominated.

South Korean sister companies Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America Inc. for example, barely trail Honda with a combined 9.1% of U.S. auto sales. That’s up from 7.8% a year ago and the gains have come through sales of the compact cars such as the Hyundai Elantra and mid-sized sedans such as the Hyundai Sonata and the Kia Optima.

The negative review by the influential consumer magazine is expected to hurt sales of what has been one of the most popular cars in America. Honda sold 260,000 of the previous-generation Civic last year, making it the third-bestselling car in America and the fifth-bestselling vehicle including trucks. The current model sells for $16,000 to $22,000 depending on trim level and options.

"The redesigned Civic LX's score dropped a whopping 17 points to a mediocre 61 from the previous generation's very good 78. It scored second to last in Consumer Reports' ratings of 12 small sedans, followed only by the recently redesigned Volkswagen Jetta. Consumer Reports' testers found the 2012 Civic to be less agile and with lower interior quality than its predecessor. It also suffers from a choppy ride, long stopping distances and pronounced road noise," the magazine said.

Previously, the Civic has been Consumer Reports' highest-rated small sedan as well as a "top pick" in five of the last 10 years.

Others like the car.

"Although the 2012 Honda Civic doesn’t revolutionize the compact sedan the way it has in the past, it remains a vehicle that Edmunds.com editors would recommend to their friends,” said Scott Oldham, editor in chief of auto information company Edmunds.com. 

Still, Oldham also observed that although the Honda Civic once set the standard for innovation within the compact segment, “competing automakers have caught up with some very impressive small cars offerings.”

RELATED:

GM profits soar 

Consumer Reports rips new Civic 

Fuel economy ratings come up short 

-- Jerry Hirsch

Twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photo: Honda Civic. Credit: Honda

 

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