That Sony and Honda announced last fall that they were forming Sony Honda Mobility was certainly curious. Perhaps Sony execs felt a compulsion to get into automotive because its long-time rival Panasonic has been supplying electric vehicle batteries for the past several years, and it wanted to get into the vehicle space, as well.
And as for Honda—well, given that it is a comparatively small OEM, it needs to establish partnerships where it can, so having already signed up with GM, going with Sony is probably considered to be a useful thing for no other reason than the electronics manufacturer has lots of tech, and that’s certainly useful to an OEM.
SHM revealed the name of its new brand, AFEELA, and a prototype vehicle to accompany it. While there are some who criticize the name, odds are people looked askance at “Trinitron” back in 1968 and “Acura” in 1986.
But here’s a curious thing about it:
The company says that it aims “to create a new mobility lifestyle by leading people’s hearts and minds towards an open, pleasant and exciting experience. To realize this, we aim to revolutionize the mobility space as a Mobility Tech Company, alongside like-minded people who are pioneering a new future with creativity, through cutting-edge technology, and with passion.”
And it introduced a car.
Somehow the goals and the delivery mechanism seem rather disconnected.
Although some think of Honda as a Japanese company—yes, that’s where its HQ is located, so there is that—in 2021 Honda produced 1,300,804 cars, trucks and SUVs in North America and just 615,587 in Japan. Or said another way: more than twice as many in North America.
Honda opened two research facilities in the U.S. in 1975. One in Torrance, California, where American Honda is headquartered, and a test lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Even though it has a massive manufacturing footprint in Ohio—Marysville Auto Plant, East Liberty Auto Plant, Performance Manufacturing Center, Anna Engine Plant, Ohio Transmission Plant—the next facility it opened was in. . .Denver, Colorado, in 1980, an operation that focuses on high-altitude emissions tests and catalyst aging. The most recent: this year, in East Liberty, Ohio, HALO: Honda Automotive Laboratories of Ohio. It is a wind tunnel facility that performs aerodynamic, aeroacoustics and racing testing.
Last year at the Honda Performance Manufacturing Center (PMC) in Marysville, Ohio, there were 124 Acura NSX sports cars produced. That was a smidge off the volume built in 2020, which was 128.
Perhaps because it was the proverbial and actual end-of-the-line for the NSX, through October 2022 there were 236 built.
These numbers are probably useful to keep in mind regarding an announcement that Honda made today:
It will produce a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCEV) at the PMC starting in 2024.
The vehicle will be based on the current Honda CR-V crossover.
In addition to hydrogen for fuel, it will also have plug-in capability.
Gail May, who is the PMC plant leader, said, “This facility is perfect for the production of a new Honda fuel cell electric vehicle, as our small-volume capability enables us to really leverage the skill and expertise of our team to produce quality zero-emissions vehicles here in North America.”
No doubt, there is superb craftsmanship.
But doesn’t the mention of small volume and the numbers of NSXes built give you the feeling that there aren’t going to be a whole lot of FCEV crossovers?
To be fair, however, according to stats from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, if you’re looking for a public hydrogen refueling station and you don’t live in the proximity of either San Francisco or Los Angeles, you might wand to find an alternative mode of transportation.
Some 41% less was spent by automakers on national TV advertising in July 2022 compared with July 2021 according to iSpot.tv information cited by MediaPost.
The MediaPost article points out, “Without the Olympics, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup (which all took place during at least part of July last year), TV ad spending was down for automakers. . . .”
Fair point, because ads for OEMs during sporting events are absolutely ubiquitous.
However, there is another factor that probably plays a bigger role I the absence of ads:
The lack of product to sell.
According to Cox Automotive, the U.S. auto industry’s days’ supply of vehicles is in the mid-30s, a fraction what is ordinarily the norm.
Honda had just 21 days’ supply on dealer lots.
The point is, it makes very little sense to advertise products that people can’t buy.
Sure, there is something to be said to maintain brand awareness, but if there are ads that are extolling all of the wonderful features of a vehicle that is unicorn-like in its available existence, then the potential consumer is going to be highly annoyed (especially when that person tries to be sold something completely inappropriate by a dealer: guess who certainly won’t go back to that store and who is likely not to shop that brand?).
So sporting notwithstanding, the issue of sparsely available vehicles on dealer lots is a massive roadblock to commerce.
When American Honda sent out a news release early this month reporting on its Q2 sales, the headline affixed is:
“American Honda Sales Challenged by Supply Issues”
“Challenged” is, if nothing else, a euphemism for, oh, crushed.
In Q2 the sales of its cars were down 56.5% and trucks off by 47%, for a combined drop of 50.7%.
And realize that this is in the context of Q2 2021, which still wasn’t exactly a banner period in the U.S. auto industry.
Honda faces some issues going forward because it is a company with superb expertise in internal combustion, and it appears as though while gasoline-burning engines aren’t going to suddenly disappear, there will be a decided decrease in the numbers sold, a consistent drop-drop-drop in the near future.
Honda will have an electric SUV in 2024, the Prologue.
It is based on the General Motors Ultium platform.
Which goes to the point of its expertise in engines, but not so much EVs.
Honda is trying to drum up interest in the vehicle by doing things like announcing that it is “the first Honda model designed primarily through virtual reality visualization technology.”
Honda isn’t the only OEM to use VR
According to Marco Tan, VR and CG designer at Honda Design, “By simulating and evaluating colors, materials and even lighting in a virtual 3D environment we were able to explore possibilities that took styling to a higher level.”
Undoubtedly it was an aid, but eventually the Prologue needs to exist IRL.
Did you ever buy a vehicle because you knew how it was designed?
Honda plans to have its own EV architecture underpinning its models in 2026.
Then, in 2027 a series of “affordable” EVs co-developed with GM.
If the future is EVs, one might conclude that the future of Honda might have more than a working relationship with GM.
Kelley Blue Book puts together an interesting study on what people are interested in by examining what they are searching for automotive-wise both on desktops and mobile.
For Q1 22 in the non-luxury space the number-one brand is Toyota, with 34% brand consideration. In Q4 21 it was Ford on top. They’ve switched places. Ford is at 32%. Chevy is on the rise because in Q4 it was at 25% but has risen by five percentage points.
What is somewhat sad is Fiat, which was at 0% in Q4 and is at 0% in Q1.
And just above it are Mitsubishi and MINI, both at 1%, which is where they were last quarter, too.
Perhaps people just know all they need to about those brands.
KBB slices, dices and rices data in various ways. Like looking at four categories: SUVs, Cars, Pickups, and Minivans.
The top SUV is the Honda CR-V (besting the Tahoe, Durango, RAV4 and Highlander).
The #1 car is the Honda Accord, edging out the Civic (sibling rivalry). The Camry, Charger and Challenger follow.
In Pickups it is the Silverado 1500, followed by the F-150, F-250/F-350/F-450, the Silverado 2500/3500 HD, and the Tacoma.
In Minivans it is the Sienna followed by the Odyssey, Pacifica, Pacifica Hybrid and Voyager.
Of those categories, 66% looked at SUVs, 37% Cars, 35% Pickups, and 5% Minivans.
Perhaps there is some life in Cars, although the considerations were down 31% in the last quarter and 33% in the last year, so clearly things aren’t moving in the right direction.
Another potentially encouraging sign for Cars is that in the top 10 models considered, there are three Cars on the list (Accord, Civic and Camry), which is the number of SUVs on the list (CR-V, Tahoe, Durango).
What are the top three factors driving consideration?
Durability/reliability is in the top spot, which is not a surprise, nor is the fact that Toyota is the one that takes it.
Second is safety, and while you might imagine that would be Volvo, Subaru is actually in that position.
And third is driving comfort. This is taken by Ram. Who would have thought that a pickup truck would win the comfort honors?
While not full-on stark minimalism, Honda is recognizing the need for a more human-oriented interior in its 11th-generation Civic
By Gary S. Vasilash
One of the things that has been going on in interior design is that as the vehicles have become more tech-centric, there is a near feeling of driver claustrophobia.
The term typically used to describe the space is “cockpit,” as though the driver is actually trained as a pilot in an F-18 when, in fact, all that person really wants is to be able to go to the store to pick up a few groceries.
With its minimalist interior design Tesla has started a trend in this direction.
The interior of the 2022 Honda Civic is the latest example of a driver-not-pilot approach.
On a macro level, that there are pulled back A-pillars, a low hood and a flat dash, as well as a low, flat beltline, means there is a more spacious view to the outside (a good thing when behind the wheel).
Honda is calling approach “Man-Maximum, Machine-Minimum,” which is something that they followed year ago, but seem to have forgotten over the years, as they tried to stay of the moment.
There is an available 9-inch color touchscreen—the largest screen in any Honda (you would imagine this would be in something like the Odyssey or Pilot)—that runs “a simplified navigation structure with fewer embedded menus.”
What’s more, there is a physical volume knob and hard buttons for Home and Back.
It is understandable that OEMs would chase consumer electronics in terms of interfaces, but it is also clear that in some cases things have gone to far. While you look at your phone when making a selection; if you’re driving a vehicle you should be looking at the road ahead. Thus something like a knob to crank up the sound is an ergonomic solution for a car, while it would be inappropriate for a phone.
And they’ve put a 0.8-inch finger rest on the bottom of the touchscreen, something that is car-appropriate.
Yes, small(ish) sedans still matter to some companies—and some consumers. After all, there were 55,903 Civics sold through March, and that is notable
By Gary S. Vasilash
While I must confess I don’t completely understand the “breaks cover” term for a vehicle reveal, it seems that that is de rigueur in headlines for events like that, so I figured I’d use it. Breaks cover.
There isn’t a whole lot of information about what will be the eleventh generation of the venerable Civic (any car that’s been around for 11 generations gets that honorific—at the very least).
It will be a model year 2022.
The sedan will be produced at Honda of Canada Manufacturing, which is in Alliston, Ontario.
There will be a Civic Hatchback coming a few months after the Civic Sedan. It will be produced at Honda Manufacturing of Indiana in Greensburg.
Honda will offer more information about the Sedan on April 28, during its first 20th anniversary Honda Civic Tour event, headlined by H.E.R. One wonders whether the fans at the concert will be interested in specs of the songs.
This, of course, will be a virtual tour.
The car, which has, to remind you, broken cover, will be real.
Americans are big. Really big. Which might explain the absence of small cars (or almost any cars) being offered by the major OEMs
The accepted wisdom seems to have it that one of the primary reasons why vehicle manufacturers are getting out of cars and pouring more resources into crossovers is because they can make better margins on the latter. Which may be true, but is likely only part of the story.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American adults are, well, large. The average male over 20 is 5-foot 9-inches, weighs 199.8 pounds and has a 40.5-inch waist. The average female is 5-foot 3.5-inches, tips the scales at 170.8 pounds, and has a 38.7-inch waist. According to the CDC, 73.6% of adult Americans are overweight.
Seems like a fairly compelling rationale for large vehicles.
So what’s someone who wants to buy a small car to do? Well, the answer to that is “Look for something that is not all that small.”
That is, of the U.S. Big 6 automakers—GM, Ford, Stellantis NA, Nissan, Toyota and Honda—only GM has a car that can be considered “small.”
Chevrolet still offers the Spark. This car has a 93.9-inch wheelbase, is 143.1-inches long, 62.8 inches wide, and 58.4 inches high. It has a passenger volume of 83 cubic feet, and a cargo volume behind the rear seat of 11.1 cubic feet.
The next smallest is the Fiat 500X, although the company positions it as being a crossover rather than a car, but for the sake of argument, let’s include it since it has a design that is very much like the now-departed (and tiny) 500. The 500X is gargantuan compared to the Spark, with a 101.2-inch wheelbase and length, width and height dimensions of 167.2, 73.2 and 63.7 inches, respectively. It has a passenger volume of 91.7 cubic feet and cargo area behind the rear seat of 14.1 cubic feet.
Then there’s the Nissan Versa. It has a wheelbase of 103.1 inches—9.2 inches more than the Spark—and an overall length of 177 inches, or almost three feet longer than a Spark. Its other dimensions are 68.5 inches width, 57.3 inches height, a passenger volume of 88.9 cubic feet and a cargo volume of 14.7 cubic feet.
Whereas people might associate “Honda” with “small cars,” with the Fits remaining on dealer lots the only ones left, the smallest car in the lineup is the Civic Hatch. Which isn’t all that small. It has a 106.3-inch wheelbase, is 177.9 inches long, 70.8 inches wide and 56.5 inches high. It has a passenger volume of 97.2 cubic feet and a cargo volume of 25.7 cubic feet.
The smallest Toyota car is now the Prius, which has a wheelbase of 106.3 inches and an overall length of 180 inches—or more than three feet longer than a Spark. It is 69.3 inches wide, 57.9 inches high, and offers 93.1 cubic feet of passenger volume and 27.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Finally, there’s Ford, the company that was the first mass producer of passenger cars, the company that is now shifting its offerings away from, well, passenger cars. It currently has two cars on offer, and production has stopped for the Fusion, so that leaves the Mustang. Which is a completely bizarre thing to have in the context of a Spark. But here it is. The Mustang has a 107.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 188.5 inches. It is 81.9 inches wide, 54.3 inches high, and has a passenger and cargo volume of 82.8 and 13.5 cubic feet, respectively.
But consider this: the Spark actually offers more passenger volume than the Mustang. Not much more (0.2 cubic feet, or about the size of a football). But more.
So it might be a reasonable choice for a big American looking for a small car.–gsv