Accord carries high hopes

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SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. – It would be an understatement to say Honda has a lot riding on the 2013 Accord.

Scheduled to hit dealerships in late September and boasting a sedan, coupe and eventual hybrid offering, a warm reception to the new Accord is key for the company rebounding from production and supply issues that plagued it in 2011.

But with fewer people buying family sedans in Canada, Honda’s target of 15,000 in annual sales for the new Accord may have some dealers working overtime.

Accord is also one of the automaker’s “three pillars,” a trio that includes CR-V and Civic that makes up a little more than 80 per cent of its retail sales volume in Canada. With Accord being the latest of those three to receive a full redesign, sales success is paramount to continuing Honda’s bounceback year that has it roughly 25 per cent ahead of 2011 year-to-date through to July.

“Based on our 37 years of experience of selling vehicles in this segment, we think we know these customers pretty well,” explained Dave Gardner, V-P of sales and marketing for Honda Canada. “Many vehicles in this class excel in one area, maybe two; but few excel at a high level in all areas, something that the 2013 Accord lineup will accomplish.”

The picture is far rosier for Honda globally than it was the same time a year ago. Production and supply turmoil from the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan was in full swing last autumn, with the devastating flooding in Thailand still to come.

Though Honda does have seven automotive plants on North American soil with total production capacity sitting at over 1.6 million, suppliers in areas affected by 2011’s natural disasters slowed operations in Canada and the U.S. for weeks.

Fast forward to this fall and the production issues of 2011 are just bad memories. Between January and April of this year, Honda Canada’s dealer inventory increased from 15,000 to over 30,000 units, Gardner explained.

“A second reason for our resurgence is due to the sales success of Civic and CR-V. In total, we’re on pace for about 130,000 sales this year, 25 per cent ahead of where we were travelling a year ago,” he said.

The 2013 Accord as been totally redesigned and boasts two new engines along with a brand new CVT transmission, exterior, interior and MSRP.

Shoji Matsui of Honda R&D said discussions started three years ago about building the new Accord. Shorter, lighter and featuring a more “sculpted” look than the outgoing model, the 2013 Accord packs more than $3,500 worth of increased value for a price tag lower than last year’s model.

New technology features include a forward collision warning system, lane departure warning system and the industry first LaneWatch System. LaneWatch includes a camera integrated into the right sideview mirror that will show the vehicle’s blind spot on the eight-inch display screen. It is activated by the turn signal but can be turned on or off manually.

Honda is also following suit with other automakers when it comes to infotainment and connectivity. The new Accord will be the first vehicle fitted with HondaLink, a cloud-based system that uses smartphone connectivity to stream music and social media applications through the car (See sidebar).

The Accord sedan comes in four trims – LX, Sport, EX-L and Touring – and three for the coupe – EX, EX-L and EX-L V6 – and both options have highly targeted customer bases identified by the automaker.

Jonathan Weir, Accord product planner, said the sedan’s two main customer bases are boomers and Generation Xers. The company expects Honda loyalists will gravitate towards the EX-L trim while gen Xers will likely buy the Sport trim.

For the coupe, buyers’ ages remain relatively similar though they are expected to have a slightly higher annual household income.

Regardless of who buys it, the 2013 Accord will be an important launch for Honda. Having slipped from its perch atop the intermediate sedan segment in recent years thanks to new competition, Gardner said getting off to a strong start this fall with the new car would be key.

“Honda dealers should know we want to put a full court press on this car for the balance of the year.”