What do buyers want? Honda just asked them
Automaker collected data and ideas for new products in grocery store parking lots
Yoshihide Munekuni, shown, recruited Dave Power to find out what customers wanted.
But Yoshihide Munekuni, Honda's U.S. auto sales chief, knew the company would have to expand its product line to remain relevant in the American market. That conviction became a long-term research program that ultimately gave Honda a more secure future and a larger U.S. presence.
The CS Program — short for "customer satisfaction" — shaped Honda's product portfolio in the 1980s. Under Munekuni's direction, the company chose its future products for the U.S. market by asking customers what they wanted.
In 1976, it was new
As obvious as that may sound today, it was an audacious move for a small Japanese manufacturer when CS began in 1976. Munekuni recruited Dave Power, whose marketing firm, J.D. Power and Associates, had been doing motorcycle and advertising research for Honda for five years.
"Dealers were selling all the Civics they could, but they wanted to expand their line," Power recalls today. "And the best way to go was up. So Munekuni ordered the studies."
Power argued that his researchers should talk to consumers, not dealers, to get objective data. They visited parking lots of grocery stores across the country, offering shoppers as much as $5 each to answer questions, either face to face or on a written survey.
For another $5 or $10, Power recalls, consumers could test drive and critique a competitor's vehicle and offer Honda their reactions.
Larger, more luxury
The surveys with those and other consumers and Honda buyers indicated that customers liked the Civic but wished it was larger. That input helped influence the mid-sized Honda Accord, which first appeared in 1976.
CS findings guided Honda to other new vehicles. Calls for a more luxurious car led to the Prelude in 1979. The sporty but fuel-efficient CRX followed in 1983. Three years later, Honda launched a separate high-end brand called Acura.
In a discussion on a Honda Web site, Munekuni said CS "did not start out as the neatly arranged program" that consumer research by automakers has become. "We conducted interviews with every individual customer for a span of several years, in the hope of providing products and services based on our American customers' requests."
He added: "By implementing their opinions, we were able to win the trust of our customers and dealers."
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