From grand vehicle launches to ‘super’ product placement, to recalls and the review of a 26-year relationship, it’s been a busy year for American Honda Motor Co.
The following is Tier10 Lab’s year in review of the major events for American Honda Motor Co. — the Honda and Acura vehicle brands — in 2012. This is the first of our “2012 in Review” series for notable automobile manufacturers. It is mainly in chronological order, starting in January, but some related items are categorized together.
Super Bowl Ads
Both Honda and Acura brands made commercial contributions to the Super Bowl XLVI broadcast, featuring the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Both ads featured heavy star power and strong pop culture tie-ins, but to different degrees in messages.
The Honda spot, titled “Matthew’s Day Off,” starred Matthew Broderick and served as an homage to the movie that arguably made him famous. The ad — created by Calif.-based RPA — was part of the 2012 CRV launch campaign and “encourages the active, hip Gen-Y audience transitioning between their carefree twenties and their more-focused thirties to conquer their aspirations,” according to Honda.
The Acura spot featured super comedian Jerry Seinfeld — also a known auto enthusiast — clamoring to become No. 1 on the waiting list for the new NSX. In the ad, created by rp& (the division of RPA that handles the Acura brand), Seinfeld tries to woo the gentleman currently No. 1 on the list with various gifts and services. Once he finally has the guy sold, Jay Leno — an even more well-known celebrity auto enthusiast — literally swoops in to convince the guy to give the spot to him instead.
While the CR-V ad was aimed toward the turning-30 Gen-Y crowd, the NSX spot wanted to establish the exclusivity and anticipation of that vehicle from “car guys” with big names.
As part of a joint promotional/product placement campaign with Marvel Entertainment, Acura had a huge presence in The Avengers movie, which became the third-highest-grossing film of all time, worldwide. In the film, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents drove various Acura models, including the TL, MDX and ZDX. Despite being featured in a commercial for the movie (above), the RDX was not featured, primarily because it wasn’t in production when filming took place.
The highlight of the Acura/Avengers partnership, however, was the NSX Roadster concept driven by Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man character. It was a significant overtaking for Acura because the Audi RS8 was Tony Stark’s featured vehicle in the first and second Iron Man movies.
Also, in the summer, the company unveiled its all-new, cloud-based HondaLink™ connected car system. The system allows drivers to access preset content on their smartphone via an application allows. Drivers can then access their personalized content via voice recognition, steering-wheel mounted controls and in-dash audio system controls, with a tethered smartphone serving as the conduit.
“HondaLink will enable customers to put away their phone and still stay connected to the people, music and media they love,” said Vicki Poponi, assistant vice president of product planning for American Honda, in an official press release. “By creating an intuitive and customizable user interface, HondaLink allows drivers to access digital content as easily as choosing a radio station.”
Fit EV Begins Leasing
Just a couple of days after announcing HondaLink, Honda then announced that its all-electric Fit EV model would begin leasing in key markets in Oregon and California. The vehicle received the highest fuel-efficiency rating ever by the EPA, with a 118 miles-per-gallon equivalent.
One Million Hybrid Sales Worldwide
In early fall 2012, just over 13 years after the 1999 release of the Honda Insight, Honda announced that it had reached one million hybrid vehicle sales worldwide. The U.S. alone accounted for 318,000 of those units, mainly due to the Insight and the Civic Hybrid.
Final Year of ZDX
Also in the fall, Honda announced that 2013 would be the final model year for Acura ZDX, the mid-size luxury crossover that debuted at the 2009 New York International Auto Show. The ZDX was the first vehicle to be completely designed from the ground up at Acura’s design studio in Southern California. The 2013 ZDX, however, will go out with a bang, as a result of several new features, including a redesigned front grille, front and rear parking sensors, power-folding side mirrors and safety features such as Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW).
2013 Accord Launch
When one door closes (like with the ZDX), another one opens. But this door — for the launch of the all-new, redesigned 2013 Accord — didn’t just open, it was completely blown out with the biggest vehicle launch in Honda history.
The launch of the 2013 Accord also marked the 30th anniversary of the vehicle being made in the U.S. Tier10 honored that occasion with an infographic detailing the history of the Accord and its economic impact since the first one rolled off Honda’s Marysville, Ohio, plant in 1982.
If it weren’t for the 2013 Accord launch, 2012 would have been the year of the recall for American Honda Motor Co. Starting in October, and most recently in early December, nearly 1.5 million Honda and Acura vehicles worldwide were affected, including the Accord, CR-V and Odyssey. The recalls were as follows:
625,762 Accord and Acura TL models in the U.S. for the power steering hoses, which may deteriorate prematurely and can cause fluid to leak onto hot parts of the engine, creating the potential for smoke or fire. The Accord models in question were equipped with V6 engines and built for the 2003 to 2007 model years, while the Acura TL sedans were equipped with V6 engines and were built for the 2007 and 2008 model years.
With last year’s launch of the all-new 2012 Civic, things did not go as expected as reviews were sterile and sales were a bit disappointing. Therefore, Honda decided to give the model a bit of a restyling, including all-new front and rear exterior styling, extensive interior styling upgrades on all models, retuned steering and suspension and extensive body and chassis upgrades to improve the ride comfort and interior quietness. The 2013 Civic debuted at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, and Honda has already unleashed a new animation-themed marketing campaign for the vehicle.
RLX to replace RL
The Los Angeles International Auto Show also signaled the debut of the all-new 2014 Acura RLX, scheduled to go on sale the first half of 2013, with the hybrid model coming out in the second half. The RLX will replace the long-running RL, which was produced from the 1996 to 2012 model years.
The sales spike was most surprising for the Civic aspect, since the vehicle had already been thought of as a disappointment and was already being restyled for 2013, as mentioned above.
Other notables from the November numbers: Accord sales rose 82 percent, while the ILX became the top-selling Acura sedan.
One-Millionth Honda Auto Export
After 25 years of U.S.-made Hondas exported overseas, a 2013 Accord sedan en route to South Korea became Honda’s one-millionth vehicle export. The silver Accord EX-L Sedan rolled off the assembly line in Marysville, Ohio, on Dec. 5, 2012, before being transported to Port Hueneme, Calif. for export overseas. It now embarks on a nearly 6,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean to Seoul, South Korea, where the company recently began sales of its U.S.-made vehicles.
Honda currently exports U.S.-made vehicles to 49 countries. The one-millionth number did not include the numerous vehicles Honda ships to Canada, as the automaker does not consider those exports.
A Look Ahead
Besides the discontinuation of the ZDX and RL, the release of the all-new RLX and the restyling of the 2013 Civic, as mentioned above, Honda still has major model debuts lined up for the upcoming International Auto Shows in New York and in Detroit, including the redesigned, all-new 2014 MDX.
Additionally, as with the Civic, the disappointing debut of the 2013 ILX will also spur a slew of upgrades on the vehicle. The main knock on the new model is that it is underpowered — a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine for a vehicle that weighs 2,900 lbs. will do that.
The biggest news from the company, however, will arguably come in March 2013 when Honda and Acura will make a decision on an ad agency — especially for RPA. If a new agency is chosen — even if separate ones for each Honda and Acura brand — clearly the beginning of a new era will begin, but with many redesigns and new vehicle launches. Even if the company decides to keep RPA, the 26-year business relationship is no longer a given.
Whatever happens with American Honda Motor Co. in 2013, you can be sure Tier10 Lab will be on it.