Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where are the Honda Hybrids? No, really! Where are they?

For many Canadians, the word "hybrid" will evoke the image of a distinctive looking Prius vehicle. Yes, these ubiquitous Toyota hybrids can be found in the streets of many Canadian cities performing the quiet and socially responsible role of people movers, as well as the popular workhorse of many Taxi fleets. And on this note, the Prius has become nothing short of a solid statement about not only the vehicle's reliability, but also its transportation potential and remarkable industry value.

Unfortunately for Honda, having been the first to introduce the "hybrid vehicle" to Canadians drivers did not guarantee the level of success they originally had hoped for. And after almost 10 years, why should Honda - a company with a world class legacy and formidable engineering resources – fail to meet its sales goals?

Maybe because it's not just about engineering?

Still, maybe Honda’s IMA hybrid architecture could have been made more capable, flexible and scalable, particularly when compared to latest Toyota HSD, but even in this area, Honda could have leveraged other opportunities that their IMA architecture has offered from the onset. Instead, Honda chose not to. Why?

The hybrid architecture

As evidenced by many in the hybrid community, the Honda IMA architecture has excellent world class environmental potential that is able to deliver truly astounding fuel economy performance in the hands of an attentive driver.

Yes, Honda hybrids will not deliver the most exceptional performance unless its driver is willing to learn and minimally leverage the finer attributes of the platform. But even when operated by an oblivious driver, the architecture will offer significantly improved fuel savings and lower emissions when compared to its non-hybrid counterparts. On this note, the IMA system has significant merits that cannot be ignored.

Packaging and implementation

The best performing Honda hybrids have always demanded some form of compromise on the part of its driver. Granted, for some the positive attributes of a Honda hybrid greatly outweigh the deficits and the word "compromise" is not always applicable. But in the eyes of the general public, Honda has taken a literal back seat to the much vaunted versatility offered by the Prius. The lack of a rear folding seat and a more constrained trunk capacity in its Civic Hybrids is a notable shortcoming in the eyes of many buyers.
Yes, the newer Honda Insight attempted to remedy this, but it introduced a few other limitations too with lower fuel economy, reduced passenger interior space and lower perceived quality (interior and ride).

Advertising and Product Awareness

To some, a Honda hybrid does not shout the “Look at me, I'm a hybrid” slogan whether parked or in motion and that is a big plus for many. But, its ability to sell in good numbers cannot be enhanced if such stealth is accompanied by minimalistic advertising efforts either.

On this front Honda Canada not only gets a regrettable rating in terms of promoting their hybrid models to Canadians, but they also get knocked down a few more points for not responding to community requests that could strengthen and enhance the visibility of their hybrid product line.

It is as if Honda Canada does not really want to sell any of its hybrids. At all! This is not only perplexing, but also contrary to the company’s long standing claim that it is truly serious about meeting its hybrid production goals.

But, would good advertising help Honda compete with such a shrewd and very able competitor like Toyota?

We are quite certain it would help. Especially when coupled with a lower pricing strategy and/or a more active presence in the community. And on this last ingredient, did I mention that Honda hybrid fans feel orphaned and often demoralized at green automotive shows and events without even the slightest corporate presence in sight?

Also, while the second generation Honda Insight is languishing on the dealer lots, its Honda Civic Hybrids have minimal visibility and must often be ordered in with the usual delays which is unacceptable to a green minded driver who may just as well buy a Prius from a Toyota dealer across the street. To make matters worse, in Canada the Prius is as affordable as the Civic Hybrid and the EX Insight and that is not a recipe for a sales success either.

A few desperate but yet friendly suggestions for Honda Canada:
  • Please, please, please: Lower the second generation Honda Insight prices by at least $1,000 and offer the navigation only as an option in the EX trim. Many would purchase the already well appointed EX if it was not loaded with the NAVI and the price it carries.
  • Offer navigation on the Civic Hybrid as an option, as well as other sorely missing "luxury" features (leather, etc) to match the European flavors. Concerned about the Acura CSX? Don’t be!
    Simply re-badge the European Civic hybrid as the Acura CSX hybrid. As a previous Acura owner, I would certainly buy one for sure.
  • Please advertise and train your dealers to sell the virtues of Honda hybrid vehicles. The last thing you need is for dealers to openly discourage the purchase of Honda hybrid vehicles. Many have done this, and some still continue to do so. Acura dealers are particularly notorious for this.
  • Encourage and support your Honda service technicians to own and drive hybrids. It is quite frustrating for many Honda hybrid owners to have to explain basic operational concepts to these hard working technicians in the hopes of getting problems resolved in a prompt manner.
  • Last and not least, please support your fan base by just being present at events where Honda Hybrids are showcased. Your fan base is out here - in the real world - and they've been calling for you for many years.

Finally, drive safely and don't forget to greet the next Honda hybrid owner you cross paths with. :)


  1. My friendly suggestions to Honda Canada are to price the upcoming CR-Z low - costing no more than the Insight; bring the 2+2 seating as with the Europe version. General public thinks Honda IMA is inferior to Toyota's system in every way. You need more sales then word of month to show the real-world benefits it can achieve.

    I've no experience with Honda dealerships in terms of sales and service of hybrid vehicle. It would be a big turn off if suggestion points 3 and 4 are true and not fixed.

  2. I absolutely agree.

    Even though many say the 2+2 seating is too small to accommodate even children, I still would like to see it here in North America - at least as an option.

    Sadly, points 3 and 4 are still with us primarily in many of the small-town dealerships. Conversely and as our experience indicates, dealers serving the major urban environments tend to be far more understanding and accepting of the hybrid technology and are less likely to discourage the purchase of these vehicles. :(


  3. I believe Honda did not want to sell the Civic Hybrid in 2007 when I purchased a new 2006 model. I had to visit 6 dealers before I can test drive one. The last dealer did not have a demo the night I visited them but the saleman was kind enough to promise me he will find one the next day! Since then, I never saw a Civic Hybrid advertisement on TV or elsewhere! I was told by my Honda dealer (I moved, not the same where I acquired my car) that I was one of the few personnal owner of a Civic Hybrid. Only the federal government had purchased them lately.
    BTW I am very happy with the car after 100,000 km

  4. Unfortunately, I purchased a 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid. I paid a premium price (thousands more than my mini van) and I am now having trouble with the IMA battery system. My regular car maintenance provider won't touch the Hybrid so I am stuck dealing with Honda service. My internet research on the vehicle identifies massive shortcomings. A US lawsuit was launched for their inflated gas mileage claims (basically the same ones were used in Canada) and about $10,000 per owner was initially awarded. Honda lawyers got them off on a technicality --- i.e., the government agency was held responsible for the mileage claims rather than Honda who provided them. They have also had major problems with the IMA batteries and Consumers reported that this was acknowledged in a 2012 technical bulletin where the IMA battery warranties were extended. Honda Canada's position with me is that I should not be relying on this negative information as it is a different car in Canada than that sold in the US which is laughable.
    Bottom line, I have a car that has not delivered on the advertised gas mileage with IMA battery problems and diminished resale value. Maybe that is why the Honda dealers are not promoting the hybrids.

    1. Yes, their recurring claim that the Canadian packaging differs that much from the US models is not only misleading and inaccurate but laughable indeed.
      The Canadian package may be prepped/equippped for Canada's metric system and regulatory requirements but that is really as far as the more superficial differences go. What matters here is that EVERY major subsystem is assembled from the exact same parts, same way and in the same factory by the same production teams.

      As recent history and thousands of Canadians customers prove it, Honda Canada is so out of touch with the technical details and capabilities of the platform that they in turn become its highest liability in more ways than one. Given their customer service policies, corporate knowledge base of the product and mind-numbing responses to Honda Hybrid owners, we have ceased to promote and recommend any and all advanced platform vehicles from Honda or Acura.

      As a long time Acura and Honda owner I say this with the utmost regret and it pains me that Honda Canada have repeatedly demonstrated neither caring nor understanding the implications of their product support policies.