It's difficult to overstate the importance of the Accord to the Honda franchise. The Accord is to Honda as the F-Series is to Ford, the Caravan is to Dodge, and the 3-Series is to BMW. The Accord is the heart and soul of Honda. Launched in 1976, the Accord has been at or near the top of the midsize sedan segment ever since. There are 11 million on the road. Car & Driver magazine has named the Accord one of the Ten Best Cars some 26 times, more than any other vehicle. Mr. Takuji Yamada, Executive Vice President of American Honda Motor Company, said of the Accord, "This car is who we are."
But the launch of the ninth generation Accord on Wednesday, September 19, is important not only because the car plays such a central role in the franchise. It is also important because recently Honda has slipped. There are some who believe Honda has gotten "off track." The recently-launched Civic was panned by the media as including cheap materials not usually associated with a Honda vehicle. Honda publicly apologized and has scheduled a premature Civic facelift (despite the negative reviews, the Civic has been selling well and is currently the most popular compact car in the industry). Further, recent small-volume Honda entries such as the Insight and CR-Z hybrids and the Crosstour have not fared all that well. On top of this, the make has been plagued by challenges beyond its control, including the 2011 Japanese earthquake/tsunami, the flooding in Thailand later that year, and the strong yen.
As if all that wasn't enough, the midsize sedan segment has changed drastically over the past five years. Back in 2007, the Camry and Accord sat comfortably atop the segment, claiming over a third of the category just between the two of them. The third-place Altima was almost five points behind these two based on share of segment. So far this year, though, the Accord has slipped to third place behind the Camry and Altima, and its share of segment has declined over five points to 11.7% (which is actually up over the 2011 total of 11.4% because of inventory replenishment). Much more competitive products from several OEMs including GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia have changed the composition of the segment. Five years ago the spread between the first and sixth models in the segment based on share of segment was over 14 points; today that spread is only seven points. Just a quick glance at the general directions of the lines on the chart below shows how much the positioning of the top models has changed.
All these circumstances have coalesced to make this Accord launch exceptionally important. John Mendel, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for both Honda and Acura, called this launch "the single most important in our history."
The new Accord boasts several benefits when compared to its predecessor. A new four-cylinder engine with direct injection and variable-valve timing gives the car better fuel economy, more power and less emissions. The new vehicle is 3.5 inches shorter and an inch wider than its predecessor, addressing the concern that the old car was too big. The new car also comes with additional side impact protection and a one-piece, rattle-proof instrument panel.
The styling of the vehicle is evolutionary, typical of Honda. It looks crisper, cleaner, and less "ponderous" than its predecessor, but anyone expecting a sexy, show-stopping design will be disappointed. That's just not Honda's way.
The Polk Automotive Forecast predicts the 2013 Accord will regain some of the segment share ceded by its predecessor, though the new car will not get all the way back to the levels of several years ago just because of the previously-mentioned increased competition. Polk predicts the Accord's segment share will reach 13.4% in 2013 and generally stay in the 13-14% range for the next several years. During this timeframe the Accord should also re-claim the runner-up spot in the segment after the Camry.
Posted by Tom Libby, Lead Analyst, North American Forecasting, Polk (09.18.2012)