SAN DIEGO -- Because of the chilly reception this year for its redesigned Civic, which was universally panned for its cheap, hard-plastic instrument panel and center console, Honda is moving more quickly than planned on some mid-cycle changes.
"We take feedback seriously, regardless of who it's from, and we will act accordingly quickly," John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president, said in an interview.
The mid-cycle update normally would occur in spring 2014. But Mendel said the change could occur sometime in 2013.
Honda was in the midst of redesigning the Civic when the global economy imploded in 2009. Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito stopped the redesign in its tracks, approved shortening the wheelbase and reducing content to appeal to budget-conscious consumers.
Reviewers chastised Honda for its penny-pinching ways after it debuted in April. Consumer Reports removed the Civic from its "recommended" list for the first time in memory, calling it "cheap" and "insubstantial." A recent Wall Street Journal review called it "a betrayal."
For the car that leads the compact segment in retail sales -- and is Honda's bread and butter -- those words are damning when competitive entries from Ford, Hyundai and Chevrolet have shown major improvement.
"I don't know how much we can do, and how quickly," said Mendel at the media launch of the redesigned 2012 CR-V crossover. "But the comments of Consumer Reports and our customers have not gone unnoticed. We are appropriately energized."
The launch was severely disrupted by the Japan earthquake on March 11. Dealers held blowout sales of the outgoing Civic in March and April, but allocations were slow in coming.
Still, the Civic was the most shopped nameplate in June, in the thick of the car's marketing launch, according to the consulting firm Compete Automotive. But the spike was surprisingly short-lived, and shopper volume declined quickly -- "atypical for Honda in particular," the Compete report said.
The downgrade by Consumer Reports likely played a role in the diminished interest, Compete said.