Honda's redesigned Accord targets leading fuel economy, safety
2013 model billed as 'most sculpted' ever
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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included a chart with incorrect U.S. sales data for the Accord from 1979 through 1988.
LOS ANGELES -- The redesigned 2013 Honda Accord will go on sale this fall with a shorter length, a new engine family and a continuously variable transmission -- huge engineering changes for a signature car that has slipped against mid-sized rivals.
Honda released the first images of the production version of the Accord sedan and coupe today but provided few additional details about the cars.
The 2013 sedan -- weighing less than the outgoing model, but with more passenger and cargo room -- features nearly flush windshield glass, flush-mounted windshield wipers and available LED daytime running lights, headlights and taillights.
Honda -- clearly aiming for U.S. buyers attracted to the current Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Toyota Camry and 2013 Ford Fusion -- calls it the "most sculpted and dynamic Accord ever."
Honda calls the ninth-generation sedan the most sculpted Accord ever with increased interior passenger and cargo space. The overall length has been shortened, however, Honda says, to provide sportier driving and easier parking.
The side flanking and rear-window kink at the C-pillar resemble the styling of BMW's 3 series. But the front and rear fascias clearly signal a Honda product.
In addition to sportier styling, the 2013 Accord is being used to introduce several key pieces of Honda technology.
The first generation of the automaker's "Earth Dreams" engines -- offering improved fuel economy and lower emissions -- debut featuring direct injection and double overhead cams.
A hallmark of the Accord since its 1976 U.S. debut as a hatchback -- leading fuel economy -- is under attack by rivals such as the Sonata and Camry.
The base engine will be a 2.4-liter inline-four with more than 181 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque, Honda said in January. That would mean a slight horsepower increase but considerably more torque, with at least 10 percent better fuel economy, Honda engineers have said.
All four-cylinder versions of the Accord equipped with an automatic transmission -- a huge percentage of the model's sales mix -- will be equipped with a continuously variable transmission. The decision could prove to be a gamble because CVTs have not been widely accepted by American buyers and have been plagued with reliability issues in some vehicles.
Honda has also re-engineered the Accord's 3.5-liter V-6 engine and paired it with a new six-speed automatic transmission or an available six-speed manual gearbox .
Honda has said the V-6 will produce more horsepower than the current model while targeting class-leading fuel economy and an overall gain in fuel efficiency over the 2012 model.
The 2013 Accord will also be offered with a two-motor plug-in hybrid system that features three modes – all-electric, gasoline-electric and direct-drive.
But perhaps the biggest question looming over Honda -- in an era of cost-cutting necessitated by the strong Japanese yen -- is what the latest Accord looks like inside. A repeat of the current Civic's overly plastic interior will not work well with U.S. customers.
Honda did not release images of the 2013 Accord's interior today, but Honda sources say the cabin is an upgrade from the current generation.
While the coupe will remain similarly sized, Honda says the sedan will feature a more compact exterior footprint. Both models will feature "increased passenger and cargo space," Honda said today in a statement.
The automaker said previously the 2013 Accord would be offered with lane departure warning, forward collision warning technology, blind spot detection, and a standard rearview back-up camera.
In January, John Mendel, head of sales for American Honda, vowed the ninth-generation Accord would "raise the bar again through a tour de force of new Honda powertrain and safety technologies, geared to ensure that Honda and the Accord continue to lead in fuel economy, safety and fun-to-drive performance."
The 2013 Accord coupe
Sales of the Accord -- America's top-selling car in 1989-91 and again in 2001 -- have rebounded 28 percent this year through July to 183,817.
That is just ahead of the Nissan Altima, with sales of 183,703, but behind the top-selling Toyota Camry, with year-to-date sales of 243,816 units.
Last year, Accord was passed by the surging Altima in U.S. sales volume, partly because of inventory shortages stemming from the March 2011 earthquake in Japan.
The Accord's share of the mid-sized segment has slipped markedly over the past several years, from 17 percent in 2007 to 11 percent this year, according to data from R.L. Polk.
However, those numbers include fleet sales. If only retail sales are counted, the Accord's segment share has slipped from 21 percent to 14 percent, but it still holds a solid second place, according to Polk.
Both the Accord and the segment-leading Camry have ceded a few points of share apiece to the Sonata, Fusion and Chevy Malibu, which analysts say is a sign of growing parity in the segment.
The Altima's share of retail sales has actually slipped over the same period -- indicating big fleet sales for the Altima as Nissan sold down the old model before its redesign this summer.
George Peterson, president of the AutoPacific consultancy in Tustin, Calif., said Honda has more to worry about from the 2013 Altima than it does from the Camry that was redesigned last fall.
"With the weight Nissan has put behind Altima, can Honda keep Accord close to Camry?" Peterson asked. "The base Altima comes across as a credible car. There's a lot of stuff in that car."
Honda has said the 2013 Accord will offer more standard equipment compared to the current model, such as Bluetooth hands-free phone interface, a full-color intelligent multi-information display and SMS text messaging that reads received texts from compatible mobile devices aloud over the audio system.
Perhaps more worrying to Honda is that Accord residual values have slipped from 52 percent to 49 percent since 2007, according to ALG, formerly Automotive Lease Guide.
Meanwhile, the overall residual values in the mid-sized segment have increased. As a result, the Accord's price premium over the segment average has slipped from seven percentage points to two.
Honda also will have to get its dealers off the incentive juice. As part of its sell-down strategy, Honda spent $3,900 per unit in APR and lease incentives on the Accord in July, and $4,500 in April, according to TrueCar data.
Rival Toyota spent $2,180 apiece for APR and lease deals on the Camry in July.
You can reach Mark Rechtin at email@example.com. -- Follow Mark on