Honda Civic: End of the road for an icon or a temporary pause?

The Civic has always been a car that has divided public opinion…straight down the middle. Those who loved and ended up buying it, swore by its cockpit like interiors, refinement, agility, comfort and ability to beat the shit out of a diesel pumping heart of Skoda Octavia. Those who did not, berated it for its ground clearance and gas guzzling nature. And as the gas, petrol in this case, became more and more dearer and its parent Honda became more and more distanced from the market realities, Civic paid the price.

It has been just about 7 years for this executive sedan. Just…because there are so many of them on the roads and it has been so intensely loved, it seems just like the other day it as launched in India. And yet, as we speak, only a few hundred units of the car are left to be sold in the country. Whether it will ever come back again, we dont know but we will ponder over that later. Lets concentrate on the legacy it leaves behind.

When it was launched in 2006, Civic’s executive segment was worth 40,964 cars per year. As it rides into the sunset in 2012, it is stagnating at 41,102 units. Stagnating? During this period, the overall car market has zoomed 87% to over 20 lakh cars per annum from just over 10 lakh cars per annum. In the course of all these years, roughly 55,000 customers have enjoyed the kind of plaint ride, Civic is renowned for. Worldover.

While the industry has blossomed, the executive segment is only getting marginalised. And it is not because but inspite of Civic. The thing that has hit the car hardest, is not its low ground clearance (which gave you so many cringes every time the car went over a crater, you may actually have got a permanent scar) or its low fuel economy (that made you wish you had an oil well to your name, even in 2006 and 2007). It is the dieselisation of the economy, the bane of Honda in general, that killed the Civic.

You may fault the company for not updating the product enough…..7 years is a little too long in the tooth. You may crib why Honda never developed a diesel for this vehicle or why they did not work on the ground clearance. As a friend once famously put it…all it needs is increasing the height of the floor and fitting it with bigger tyres to keep it there. I will not name the friend….I am scared he may get famous and I would turn green with jealousy.

But that does not change one thing. That the car remains as good as ever. The best petrol executive sedan that money can buy (though a latest avatar of the Jetta has the right to make a hue and cry about this). And one that still looks the best (even Jetta cant say anything to that). Still looks contemporary, drives like a dream, handles like a fighter jet.

Its best however is behind us. At one time, it garnered 40% of the executive segment which always had a fair share of diesel players in it. And it sold a good 16,000 odd units at that…a number even the Jazz cant replicate. Ever. But it has fallen off that cliff. To under 10,000 units initially then under 5,000 units and finally, this year, to less than a 1,000 units so far (in 7 months albeit). At that level, no car deserves to remain in the market. It is just that only a few are game enough to actually go away. Most stubbornly stay, and bleed their companies dry.

And so the latest generation of one of the best selling nameplates of Honda globally, will not come to India. Neither will its diesel variant anytime soon. Yes, they do have a diesel variant now in Europe…1.6 litre IDtec…120 hp power. An iteration of that same diesel engine will be plonked to a more mortal…Honda Amaze in India next year. And perhaps the same engine will also be found in the City, come 2014. Which raises hopes, that once the City diesel gets going here and there are enough numbers for Honda to be adventurous again, the Civic will make a comeback. And touch the dizzying heights of a pre recession 2006-07. For the time though, its adieu to an ageing out of place Samurai. Grab the last few till you can. Honda will give you a good deal at that.

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