Next-generation Honda Civic is mission critical

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LOS ANGELES — The Honda Civic has been a staple of American motoring for nearly 50 years — but more than that, it has been a cornerstone of Honda Motor Co.’s popularity with U.S. consumers.

Now, despite an onslaught of small crossovers intent on digging into the compact car’s coveted sales base of mostly young, first-time buyers, Honda is moving to keep its Civic franchise fresh.

To continue capturing the shrinking but passionate pool of U.S. car buyers, Honda is rolling out the 11th-generation Civic sedan next year. A nearly finished prototype, presented last week, offers an evolutionary upgrade from the current generation, which has been a sales success despite some questionable styling cues.

“We know that passenger cars have been shrinking — and maybe even more during the coronavirus with a huge rise in the popularity of SUVs,” Gary Robinson, American Honda Motor Co.’s vice president of automobile product planning, said during a product presentation last week. “We do believe that passenger cars are going to stabilize and actually do quite well over the next five or six years.”

It is a critical mission in a changing market.

The sedan, which will go on sale in the spring as a 2022 model, is the nameplate’s more mature offering compared with the Civic’s racer hatchback. The quirky coupe has been discontinued after the 2020 model year, as sales have waned. Also exiting the U.S. after 2020 is the Fit subcompact hatchback.

In addition to trimming back its car offerings, Honda has announced a product plan to beef up the looks of its light trucks, starting with the Ridgeline midsize pickup. But company executives say the brand’s car classics, the Civic and Accord, have a healthy future. The Accord midsize was just freshened for 2021.

“Civic truly is our global people’s car,” said Robinson, “We have sales in over 170 different countries and global sales of around 26 million units” since the 1973 model year. The U.S. is responsible for 11.9 million of those sales over the years, and most of those Civics were built at Honda factories in North America.

“It is not meant to be a revolutionary change,” Robinson said of the redesign. “We definitely didn’t want to rethink Civic or change it dramatically. What we wanted to do was take the strengths of it and take them further.”

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Saurabh Shukla

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