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TOV Forums > General Talk > > Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm -no more Buicks!

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CB77
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Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 11:21
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Regarding the recently-posted article "Reuters: Insight: After Civic bruising, Honda fights for its soul" at another location on this site. I came across an article on a private Honda employee website by a fellow Honda associate that I used to work with. He is retired now, but he was fairly high-up in the American Honda organization, and his position there gave him very good insight into the internal workings of Honda and American Honda (that many ToV-ers find so hard to understand). Unfortunately, he does not share fully in the optimism that some of us have about the changes mentioned in this Reuters article...although his comment ends on a hopeful note. He makes some excellent points. Here's his piece:


“Lost their way indeed and some good staff too (from the recent early-retirement package offered to senior employees)! This article’s analogy to GM Ford and Chrysler's 2008 status though is ludicrous and shows journalistic ignorance. These two positions are window dressing to help foment some needed internal changes. Although it sounds like a big change, reality is it likely isn’t. Mgt knows that too much creative freedom and technology developed just "because they can" can also quickly escalate into unprofitable/undesirable product. Oval pistons anyone?

Styling has been the biggest HM weakness on cars and bikes alike the last decade. Ironically, the cost of attractive vs unattractive styling is negligible in most cases. "Bean counters" (bless their grubbing, narrow minded souls) have little impact on shapes, colors and those "smiley-face signature grills".

Honda's aversion to acquire real customer research on key factors let alone styling or vehicle concepts is becoming more globally exposed thanks in part to the immediacy and breadth of web voices. It makes it impossible to tell your R & D boss "most everybody likes it but sales dept., or “the dealers are doing something wrong". The "We know best" arrogance keeps generating "answers" to questions nobody ever asks.... VFR1200, CrossTour, ATV utility line etc. Japanese chief stylists approve all designs and typically over ride ones submitted by their own regional offices on each continent As we all well know, their eye just isn't the same as ours or cultures known for design excellence.

In the ‘90s Honda’s Rome-based R&D assignments gave several American Honda stylists some great wine and pasta knowledge (and basically a wonderful Honda-paid European vacation) but no Ferrari or Ducati-challenging inspiration. Or maybe their input was disregarded.

The Civic burp is actually a lovely and fortunate excuse for a corporate wake up call. Let’s hope it doesn't just generate short term stirring noises and deployment of the snooze button.”



Grace141
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 11:50
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That right there, friends, is our winner! There is and always will be internal battles between the creative types and the folks who manage the numbers. Spotlighting two creative-type employees as the saviors of Honda tasked with righting the ship is too far of a swing to the other end of the spectrum. I recently mentioned the J. Mays experience for Ford - it's the prototype for an organization trying to connect with the wants and desires of its customer base. And it will fail everytime simply because of the fact you can't apply numbers to the subjective.

The two options Honda has for going forward in the US are:

1.) Accept their place in the market which has always been the smarter car at a somewhat premium price. Honda will never compete with the Koreans in the current economic environment. Build in the quality materials and components, charge a reasonable albeit higher price, and connect with the core customer base which is educated, upper middle-class Americans. The core customer base is fully aware of Honda/Acura not being on the forefront of styling taste.

2.) Decide today to go all in with the goal of competing directly with the best of the cars on the market in the US. Give the AHM design folks full responsibility for styling. Keep the brash young designers on staff but bring in a design guru head honcho, American with Italian training, giving that person full management powers over the young guns. Just Say No power coupled with a track record for good taste in style would have helped the Crosstour, ZDX, etc.

Both options include abandoning the low end of the market. In my opinion the EX level trims for the Hondas should be the new base models going forward. No more hub caps. No more cheap, flimsy gauge clusters.
superchg2
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 11:59
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Innovation and improving the product are an imperative. Being two steps behind the competition is something Soichiro would never have tolerated.
CarPhreakD
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 13:14
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The VFR isn't exactly an answer to a problem that no one asked, the problem was that it wasn't well executed. There's some spectacular flaws (ergonomics, weight) that override what should have been a good VFR successor. Instead, Honda managed to alienate that entire base. Does Honda have problems with their ATV utility lines? I always thought that division was doing well. At least Honda looks like it has a hit on its hands with the new NC700.

It's the same thing with the (Accord) Crosstour. If AHM had executed a hatch or wagon version of the Accord and had it styled well, it could have been doing battle with, and outselling the Venza. But by hobbling it to essentially top-spec Accord trim and making it look garish, it sold exceptionally low quantities.
NealX
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 13:37
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Being a "creative," I don't recall ever being at odds or in conflict with "bean counters." In fact, it seems a greater thrill to work within the confines of a budget but deliver something of meaning and beauty with those "constraints."

Because come the next project the bean counters will have a level of respect and faith for mutual success through your past collaboration. And you may be able trust they will go to bat for you on elements that offer that breakthrough moment of design innovation - even if it's the most modest detail.

Getting away with something via design or doing a run-around the budgeteers (or pointing the finger, even) is no route for long-term success or respect. If you make it "all about you" through design who may as well go fondle yourself and call it "fine art."

I don't think an American with Italian design training (that would be like me claiming to make the best Mexican food) would be the best choice to nurture and advance a Japanese product exuding Japanese efficiency and sensibilities. I don't recall any AHM designers coming across as brash and young. Honda has always seemed to be about excellence within a certain amount of restraint.
Fan Koni
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 16:22
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why call it: Curb Your Enthusiasm?

I mean we know about civic, crosstour... every company has them, but looking ahead to new engines, accord and Acura range - doesn´t this give some hope?

The bean counters will see more cars made outside of Japan, so they should be happy too.
CB77
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 17:41
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I call it "Curb Your Enthusiasm", because the post from my fellow Honda associate shows some skepticism that this is the earthshaking good news that we think/hope it is. Here is the excerpt from his post:


"Although it sounds like a big change, reality is it likely isn’t. Mgt knows that too much creative freedom and technology developed just "because they can" can also quickly escalate into unprofitable/undesirable product."

Grace141
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 19:12
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On his first day back at GM in 2001 Bob Lutz went straight to the design studio to see the product in the pipeline. He prompty cancelled several cars already released for production including a new big Buick sedan which had inherited some of the Pontiac gray plastic side panelling. Everything about GM leading up to and including the Aztek is the pre-Bob Lutz GM. Everything after that starting with the Solstice is Bob Lutz. And they keep bringing him back largely because he established himself in the US and then Australia and Europe. Imagine that new ATS but with a bunch of gray plastic cladding on the sides. The design guru head person with established taste does go to bat for the designers while also steering them in a correct direction and keeping their feet on the ground with ideas that can be built and sold. A design dictator is needed to simply say "no, we're going this direction" when it is needed.

Each time Ford US has taken a step forward in style since the '60s it's been when they've brought an American design exec who has served with Ford of Europe back to the US. The massive steps forward from the '70s into the '80s can be traced to Jack Telnack. When Jack Telnack retired he was replaced by J. Mays and we got the VW Passat-ized Ford 500 of all things. Management skills are a must but good taste is also.

How many years have the two Honda guys spent living and working in the US? What of American design culture would they say is substantial and worthy? What happens if they red-light every project in the works? Where is that bar going to be placed? What happens if what we get is better plastics in the same old Crosstour and Civic?

If Honda really wants to connect with the American consumer in terms of style they need to put themselves on the leading edge of American style. Otherwise they should just go about building the best Japanese cars they can for the US and drop the idea of the Civic and Accord being American sedans. I'd be happy if they went back to copying the 3 and 5-series sedans.
NealX
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 19:47
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^ Sure. I just am not comfortable with a Honda or Acura reflecting the "leading edge of America style" or copying BMWs as you say.

If I wanted that, I'd buy an American brand or a BMW. Perhaps I'm in the minority for wanting a Japanese car delivering a Japanese aesthetic and experience - but I suspect that's not the case - not here at least - but I don't know. Until then I'll work to keep the Fantasy Factory operational...
TonyEX
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-04-2012 19:59
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CB77 wrote:

...
Styling has been the biggest HM weakness on cars and bikes alike the last decade. Ironically, the cost of attractive vs unattractive styling is negligible in most cases. "Bean counters" (bless their grubbing, narrow minded souls) have little impact on shapes, colors and those "smiley-face signature grills".

Honda's aversion to acquire real customer research on key factors let alone styling or vehicle concepts is becoming more globally exposed thanks in part to the immediacy and breadth of web voices. It makes it impossible to tell your R & D boss "most everybody likes it but sales dept., or “the dealers are doing something wrong". The "We know best" arrogance keeps generating "answers" to questions nobody ever asks.... VFR1200, CrossTour, ATV utility line etc. Japanese chief stylists approve all designs and typically over ride ones submitted by their own regional offices on each continent As we all well know, their eye just isn't the same as ours or cultures known for design excellence.




(1) Honda DOES do customer clinics... perhaps they've started doing TOO MANY of them and the end result is a Homer Simpson kind of car. Honda should NOT listen too much to consumers when they style cars... they should listen to consumers about reliability, fun to drive, safety, performance.. but NOT style.

(2) The biggest problem with HMC and AHM is NOT design. Otherwise where did the 04 TL, the 84 Civic, the pop headlights on the Accord, the S2K, the ITR, the European Civics. the Euro Accord, etc.. come from? Those are all very nice, mostly restrained products that even today look modern. Take a look at the 84 Civic hatch... even today it's modern, with low hood, an almost fragile connection between the body and the roof and lots of glass all around.

No, the problem with AHM is (has always been) MARKETING. When marketing decided to push design, then we got the Crosstour, the ZDX, the Power Plenum.. must I say more.

I say, marketing needs to step back from design and instead start figuring out what Honda cars mean to consumers... and they DO NOT MEAN AMERICAN CARS.. they mean JAPANESE cars. If american consumers wanted an AMERICAN car they'd buy a Buick.

Honda cars have always stood for reliability, fun to drive, efficiency, very high technical value and excellent ergonomics.

There.. I just told marketing what they need to know.

So, here's the second lesson for AHM marketing.. for free, from me...

(1) Stop the bloating. The cars are getting too big.
(2) Bring back MT transmissions, Honda arguably makes the best. A Civic EX with R18, MT5 and Navi would be a very nice commuter car. The Fit Sport Navi NEEDS an MT.... ( we got one).
(3) Tell engineering to put an auto clutch between the driveshaft and the transmission in the small car IMA and to add a second motor as in the forthcoming ED Accord.
(4) Don't cut so much on the look and feel. Don't cut at all on the powertrain, brakes, etc... Honda NEVER did that.
(5) Hondas are typically more expensive than the competition but they have high resale value and low maintenance costs so the overall cost is low. SELL THAT.. DON'T LET THE COMPETITION STEAL YOUR THUNDER.
(6) Make an ILX wagon... add an AT6SS in the ILX/K24.
(7) Bring back an ILX-R with a high power K22.
(8) Make the RL bigger than the TL.
(9) Put an ED gas engine in the CR-Z.
(10) Make a Fit Si.
(11) Bring the Fit variations to the US (make them in Mexico).
(12) Bring back the overhead LED in the CRV... that was cheap.
(13) Return to the old Acura names... the TL and RL are damaged goods by now. The Legend and Integra were great names, the Vigor was mostly unknown so it has no bad karma.
(14) Don't EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER AGAIN SETTLE A LAWSUIT like the Civic Hybrid. That was STUPID... it might cost less money, yes, but it has created incredible DAMAGE TO THE BRAND... Idiots, idiots, idiots... Lawyers should never run a company.

There... I just fixed it.. wasn't hard, was it?

Oh... maybe have a yearly contest for design proposals from within all the company.. it's a car company and the people there know and care about cars... hey... idea! Maybe your employees do know more about cars that you do.












CB77
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-05-2012 09:43
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Tony,

I agree with some of your points. However, all the examples of good design that you cite, are 8 to 28 years old. I think that was the point that my friend at Honda was making in his post, when he stated that for the past 10 years, design and styling are starting to become a problem for Honda.

TonyEX
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-05-2012 09:57
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CB77 wrote:

Tony,

I agree with some of your points. However, all the examples of good design that you cite, are 8 to 28 years old. I think that was the point that my friend at Honda was making in his post, when he stated that for the past 10 years, design and styling are starting to become a problem for Honda.






We agree on that. I think that in the last 10 years AHM's marketing started to assert itself in ways that took the cars away from their fundamental "Hondaness".
CB77
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-05-2012 10:01
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Yes, as in the "Americanization of Honda..."

TonyEX
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm -no more Buicks!    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-05-2012 10:40
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CB77 wrote:

Yes, as in the "Americanization of Honda..."




Precisely so.

As Neal pointed out in this thread.. I don't want AN AMERICAN CAR MADE BY HONDA... I want a JAPANESE HONDA MADE IN AMERICA BY HONDA...

Meaning, I want a reasonably sized car, very well made, with top notch parts, with great attention to detail, efficient, fun to drive and reasonably good looking but restrained. Something that will last mechanically and visually for 20 years with reasonable maintenance.

If I wanted a Ford F250 Crew Cab extended bed with 4WD, well... I'd buy a Ford F250.

(OK, The Odyssey is big, and it has to be big, but it's getting too big... bring it back to under 4300 lbs....).

IMHO, AHM doesn't have to be a "full size vehicle manufacturer" (*), all they have to do is choose some niches -obviously enough of them to grow the company- and be the best in those niches.

Cars like the Legend, the GSR/ITR, SiR, Accord, Civic EX, Odyssey.. have ruled those niches for years.

There is NO NEED to dilute the effort and the brand to branch out to niches that, although interesting, expose to company to fiercely competitive markets (ie: light trucks...).

I think Acura pointed out to the Americanization of AHM, what with their dropping the names, going to alphanumerics and then mismanaging the brand... when this hit the Honda brand then we got....

Mind you, I don't think that the American Engineers are at fault.. not at all. I think AHM's engineers are quite good and capable of matching and bettering their Japanese counterparts... the same can be said of the AHM's designers... I think the fault lies with AHM marketing.

Hey, the interesting thing is to look at a Buick Enclave and a Crosstour. I mean, this is AHM going after GM.... and as much as I hate to say it.. the Enclave looks far better, even if mechanically the Crosstour is far superior.

Look instead into the new RDX and the MDX... those are actually very nice.. the current Euro Accord is very nice as well, so as you can see there is hope...

(*) You gotta admit the chutzpa over at Toyota Motor Sales when they claim to be the most efficient "full size vehicle manufacturer"... hmm. maybe Caterpillar could also claim to be the most efficient Humongous Vehicle manufacturer.. and by that line of reasoning so is/was Hummer.
Grace141
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Re: Curb Your Enthusiasm -no more Buicks!    (Score: 1, Normal) 03-05-2012 13:06
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Toyota claims to be the most fuel efficient full line auto company in the US which in a way is them saying, yes, they don't sell many Tundras compared to the full-size pickups from GM, Ford and Fiat.

Speaking of Americanization of cars, I saw another new Passat in traffic this morning. The fact that a German auto company could build that thing after the previous generations of Passats is just a tragedy. Meanwhile the Buick La Crosse is looking a little dated these days.
 
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