WASHINGTON -- Mitsuru Horikoshi, project leader for the 2012 Honda Civic, had the difficult task of changing the car just before r&d sign-off. The new mission: Streamline the car and improve its fuel efficiency.
Horikoshi spoke with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin here about the changes.
The program was delayed six months after the Lehman Brothers failure in 2008. What changed?
Customer feelings changed. Gas prices had spiked. The size of the car was not fixed. And in May 2008, we had sold 50,000 units and had been the best-selling vehicle in America. Given that situation, we felt we could take the good stuff from the 2006 Civic but increase its fuel efficiency competitiveness. And not EPA fuel economy, but real, everyday fuel economy. We kept the car the same size as the 2006 model.
So, a lot of the 2012 Civic is carryover, then?
No. About 80 percent of the car is new parts. And if you take out the powertrain, then it's 90 percent new parts. Recent crash regulations have become tougher. If we had only installed countermeasures, the vehicle would have become heavier. But we wanted to make the vehicle lighter for fuel economy.
What are some of the fuel economy ideas you are most proud of?
If you look under the car, you will see the underfloor aerodynamic measures. Also the radiator opening area and the height of the trunk -- in terms of the relationship between the roofline and the trunk -- is really good for aerodynamics.
Do you feel disappointed you didn't hit the magic number of 40 mpg freeway mileage?
Our real concern is when the customer actually drives the car, we don't want him to see a gap between the EPA number and his own mpg figures. We want the customer to see the improvements for himself. With the "econ" switch and the fuel economy coaching [on the instrument display], that can assist with good driving. I think we have achieved a competitive product.
How much better fuel economy do you get in econ mode compared with the EPA test cycle?
The EPA mode requires a specific throttle opening. Doing the EPA test in econ mode wouldn't affect things much. But for people who have more variations in speed and acceleration, if you flatten that out, you don't have that rough throttle occurring, and you get much better mileage. If an automaker is hung up on the EPA test cycle, they can make a manual transmission with wide gear ratios. But it's difficult to drive that kind of car in everyday conditions.