SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- After thriving for decades with an evolutionary model for product development, a struggling Honda has made the risky move of a clean-sheet redesign of its 2013 Accord sedan.
While Toyota was cautious in its Camry redesign last year, Honda has changed nearly everything with the Accord. It has a new direct-injection engine family, a new continuously variable transmission, a front suspension design change and a new crash structure.
Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito prodded the Accord development team to produce a no-excuses comeback vehicle. Honda executives acknowledge that they desperately need the redesigned 2013 Accord arriving this month to be the car that turns the company around after a couple of years of trouble.
It is the last of four core volume products Honda has launched in a two-year period. After the Accord, CR-V, Civic and Odyssey launches, all of Honda's cards are on the table.
"This is our most important car," said Takuji Yamada, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co. "This car is who we are."
The Accord is Honda's make-or-break profit center. More than 11 million have been sold in the United States since the car was launched 36 years and eight generations ago. But the Accord has slipped in sales, share and consideration as other automakers' mid-sized sedans have improved.
In a separate announcement today, Honda said prices on the redesigned 2013 Accord sedan will increase, on average, by less than $300, even with the addition of thousands of dollars worth of standard features and technology.
Pricing on the base Accord LX with manual transmission will increase by $200 to $22,470. The Accord LX with a new continuously variable transmission -- expected to be the most popular model -- will also increase by $200 to $23,270, Honda said.
Honda cannot afford another public humiliation like the one it received with the lambasting of the cheap interior materials used in the 2012 Civic redesign. The Accord is the car that defines whether Honda has regained its mojo.
Honda Motor has taken its lumps of late from a string of uninspired products; the Japan earthquake that crippled its r&d operations, making it the hardest hit of any Japanese automaker; the Thailand flooding that smashed a chunk of its supplier network; and a strong yen that squeezes the profit from dollar-denominated U.S. sales.
The 2013 Accord also is the first Honda developed completely under the watch of Ito, who took command of Honda Motor in February 2009 soon after the global economy imploded.
Ito, an engineer who helped develop the aluminum body of the Acura NSX supercar, also has taken his lumps. He formally took blame for the Civic's cheap interior, saying he approved a last-minute removal of content from the car to lower its price in the slumping U.S. market. But Ito also gave the underlying message that such an error would not be repeated.
At the Accord press event here, a phalanx of Japanese engineers beamed with pride -- indeed, with rarely seen swagger -- when standing next to their new charge. That also was a sea change, for two reasons: First, there was little mention of U.S. engineering involvement in the car's development, whereas Honda's PR message normally reinforces how "American" a vehicle is. And, second, for the past several years, Honda engineers typically have been reserved rather than boastful.
Might this be the start of a renaissance at Honda?