The 2SV series Civic currently being rolled out across European markets is a crucial car for Honda Motor Europe. The division saw its regional market share slump to just one per cent in Q1. The good news is that the tenth generation model is a big improvement on the outgoing 2HC.
Sales – things can only get better
It is astonishing that Honda allowed its European operations to fall so far. While many brands which also suffered a steep fall in EFTA and EU countries during the Great Recession are back setting new sales records, 2007 seems a long, long time ago for Honda Motor Europe. That was its highpoint, when some 300,000 vehicles were sold in the region and its Swindon plant was humming along nicely, as was another factory in Turkey.
In the first quarter, ACEA data show registrations of 44,055 and even worse, a 14.5 per cent drop in March to 21,682. As can be seen from the SMMT’s figures, the majority of the marque’s sales are to UK buyers. In the record month of March, sales were just 11,635, a YoY fall of 11,45 per cent. Year to date, the tally is 17,771.
Towards 200,000 sales per annum by 2019
Jean-Marc Streng, the head of Honda Motor Europe, stated in a December 2016 interview that the division has a target of reaching an eventual 200,000 sales in the region by 2019. Civic sales are hoped to rise to 50,000 units in 2017 compared to only circa 30,000 in 2016. The UK is expected to remain the number one market, taking around 25-30% of production. The expectation is for around 14,000 Civics to be delivered to UK buyers in 2018.
Given how good a car the next Civic is, things should start improving for Honda’s sales in the UK and other European markets. There are still some issues but there again, they might not be too serious. The first is that the estate won’t now be replaced, as some had said it would be. The C-wagon segment has dropped away due to the boom in SUVs and crossovers. Also, there is no diesel but that situation will change in January 2018 when the Swindon-made 1.6-litre i-DTEC is added to the five-door hatchback line-up.
Manufacturing – two European plants
Some European countries also have a sedan but that bodystyle won’t be making it to Britain, at least not for now. Production for the European region takes place in Turkey. Having taken the decision to invest heavily in both Gebze and Swindon for 2SV, Honda seems unlikely to close either of these plants. The larger of the two, which is west of London, presently has one half of its manufacturing capacity mothballed. There don’t for now at least appear to be any plans to add another model at Swindon but depending on how the new Civic does, that situation may change in a few years’ time.
The capacity utilisation at Swindon should take a much needed upswing soon enough, though things have been improving since the hatchback for North American markets went into production at the plant last August. Sales are said to be good, though American Honda, the US division, does not break out vehicle deliveries by body style in its monthly data.
Swindon to build all hatchbacks for 89 countries
Honda of the UK Manufacturing (HUM) has sole global responsibility for the hatchback but Honda of Canada Manufacturing (HCM) in Ontario was the lead global plant for the tenth generation Civic. This meant that Alliston was the first location to launch the current Civic into mass production. Further, HCM was responsible for developing the manufacturing processes and tooling trials that form the manufacturing base at all Honda plants globally that build the Civic series. The sedan and coupe came first, followed by the five-door hatchback and then project FK8, the five-door Type R. Europe won’t receive the 320PS super-Civic until the second half of the year.
As well as at Alliston 1, the new Civic should eventually be manufactured or assembled at the same plants as the previous generation sedan, coupe, hatchback and estate. An additional location is a factory one in Japan’s Saitama prefecture.
Honda stopped making the Civic in Japan in 2010 and withdrew it from the local market at the same time. Now, record demand for the CR-V in the US means the company has been struggling to keep up with demand. To alleviate this, some Civic production in North America will shift to Japan in the second half of 2017. This is said to be around 50,000 units a year of the sedan. That car, along with the hatchback, will become available in Honda’s home market from the third quarter.
Returning to HUM, Honda says the US will take 40 per cent of what it hopes will be 160,000 Civic hatchbacks built annually at Swindon. Of the remainder, the UK should take 20 per cent and other European countries plus the rest of the world will account for 40 per cent.
New architecture as well as new turbo engines
The Civic was the first model for a new C and D segment platform. The latest CR-V, which is yet to reach Europe, also uses this architecture, as will the generation 10 Accord which is scheduled to arrive in North America for the 2018 model year later in 2017.
In North America, there is a normally aspirated 2.0-litre engine as well as a 1.5-litre VTEC turbo. The second of these is also available for European markets but the base engine here has half the cubic capacity of the standard engine in North America. The 129PS 1.0-litre turbo is new for the Civic and is expected to be the most popular choice for buyers. Its CO2 output can be as low as 129g/km.
The three-cylinder is quite different in feel to comparable units of the same capacity offered by rival manufacturers. Opel-Vauxhall and Ford’s 1.0-litre petrol turbo units feel far more sporty and it’s especially strange to drive a four-cylinder petrol Honda with a diesel-like redline at 5,600rpm. Yet it’s incredibly smooth for what is an inherently unbalanced engine and the reason you notice the rev limiter is how willingly the little in-line three spins up towards it in the lower gears.
There is even better news from the 1.5 turbo. This is the pick of the two and it will rev to another thousand RPM. Power is 182PS and CO2 is from 133g/km. Both engines are better than you might think when paired to a CVT and Honda is to be congratulated for making an automatic available with the smaller of the two – not all rivals do that.
A leap for driving dynamics
Every so often, a new car really surprises you. So it was with the Civic 1.5 VTEC. In six-speed manual form this looks like a sensible family car but show it an empty B road and it wants to become a Golf GTI. Something amazing has happened to the dynamics of this car compared to the ninth generation model. There is little roll, the steering is hugely improved, throttle response is also far better – the cable has been replaced with a drive-by-wire alternative – and the ride is spot on. Even the sadly now typically worn-bumpy surfaces of most of the A roads near where I live in Somerset failed to upset the car’s composure.
If Honda dealers can get people out for an extended test drive in the larger-engined car, easy sales should follow. The interior is a bit quirky, in the same way that the inside of a Toyota Auris is but it’s clearly already well liked by people in other parts of the world: US sales last month were 27,000 units.
I can’t see HME selling too many Civics to Golf or A3 drivers but the makers of the Focus, Astra, A-Class, Megane, 308, Auris, Mazda3, i30, cee’d, C4 and Tipo will be stupid if they are writing off the new Honda as doomed to being another poor performer from what has become a niche brand.
All those intersecting lines on the body which are repeated in the styling of the door trims and dashboard would take some getting used to for me, yet I didn’t want to stop driving the 1.5 VTEC. It’s now one of the best handling cars in its segment and when it comes to roominess, only the rarely-seen Nissan Pulsar can challenge it.
Following on from the addition of the Type R will be the updated 1.6-litre diesel (January) and then after that comes a hybrid. This will have the same powertrain as features in the newly announced CR-V Hybrid. I have heard noises, incidentally, that the petrol-electric SUV will also be coming to Europe. Its local debut could be as soon as the IAA in September, with sales to commence in 2018 after production of the current model at Swindon is wound down. Europe’s next CR-V will be imported from Japan.
I’ve criticised Honda fairly heavily in the past for failing to give its European division the cars, SUVs, engines and marketing budget which have been needed. The CR-V is now getting old, the Jazz is a very good car which somehow gets lost in the welter of other B segment hatchbacks, and you could say the same about the HR-V in the B-SUV class. Japan will no doubt be putting lots of pressure on HME to deliver profits and greatly improved sales from the new Civic. The car is certainly good enough to deliver both, and it has also just become, in 1.5 VTEC manual form, one of my favourites in the C segment.