A few years won't be enough to derail Honda's image, says Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. People continue to buy Hondas in large numbers, without heavy incentives, because of the enduring perception of reliability, he said, and that remains the attribute most associated with the brand.
Even so, he said, Honda can't afford to let product annoyances linger. He considers J.D. Power's 2019 Vehicle Dependability Study, which examines problems after three years of ownership, a low point for Honda. The latest study measured the number of problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 2016 vehicles. Honda, which introduced the redesigned Civic and Pilot that year, registered 146 problems per 100 vehicles, 10 more than the industry average.
Sargent said Honda has been beset by glitches with Bluetooth technology and voice recognition that have perplexed the industry.
"Some people will give them a pass," he said. "Some will say, 'You know what, maybe I'll get a Toyota or a Hyundai or Chevy.' ... They may lose some people, and if it continues, that's a concern. You don't want to start to get a reputation for poor reliability."
The launch of the redesigned 2018 Accord was an improvement for Honda, and Sargent thinks the brand is getting back on the right path. Its problems in the Initial Quality Study have declined in each of the last two reports.
"If they turn this around pretty quickly, and the signs are that they probably will. I think it'll be OK in the long run," Sargent said.
Mike LaFontaine, a Honda dealer in Dearborn, Mich., said that judging by national sales figures, he doesn't believe recalls have affected Honda's image over the years. Honda sales are roughly flat through February, while Acura is up 11 percent.
"We're asking the car to do a lot more than it ever did before," he said. "I don't see that any kind of recalls have affected the consumer's understanding of Honda's quality."
Another Midwest dealer agreed. "I think people are happy that we're getting them taken care of," the dealer said. "I'm sure [the recalls have] to be driving these engineers absolutely crazy, because they take pride in their work."