The all new 2013 Honda Accord is Honda’s most important vehicle EVER. That’s right, EVER! It comes after lackluster reviews of the latest cost-reduced mind-numbing Civic. It enters the mid-size car product segment where the oldest high volume competitor was launched as a 2011 model in early 2010 (Hyundai Sonata) and each new model is more impressive than the one that came before it… Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Nissan Altima, the coming-soon Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and next year’s Mazda6. Each new mid-size entry is better, more finessed, more technologically capable and available with a wider range of features than ever before. The question is “Did Honda bring their ‘A Game’ to the 2013 Accord, or is it another misstep like the Civic?”
Bring their “A Game”? Wow, did they! This Accord is a take-no-prisoners attempt by Honda to reclaim leadership in the premium mid-size car class. With this car, Honda appears to have its MOJO back!
Going on sale in July 2012, the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market. Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.
It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class. The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.
First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling. The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous. Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.
Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling. That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car. Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold. The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way. Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall. The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest. Nissan calls it “Altimaness”.
The all new Elantra is the top ranked Compact Car in AutoPacific’s 2011 Ideal Vehicle Research. As the class winner, its owners indicate there is little they would change about the car with only a few notable exceptions. About 30% of Elantra owners want improved visibility (somewhat compromised by the swoopy styling of the new body). About 25% want more power and a softer ride. About 20% want more infotainment technology. Elantra owners most like the Elantra for its seat comfort, styling and exterior size. Elantra outpoints the second place Volkswagen Golf by a wide margin.
The Azera is the top ranked Large Car in AutoPacific’s 2011 Ideal Vehicle Research. Its owners indicate there is little they would change about their new car with a few notable exceptions. About 25% of the owners want more infotainment technology. About 20% want the Azera to be easier to get into and out of. About 30% would like a softer ride in their Azera. They most like the Azera’s seat comfort, tires and wheels and exterior size. The Azera wins its class by a wide margin over the second place Toyota Avalon.
There are no bad cars. It’s been years since I’ve seen a really bad car to be sold as new in the USA. Maybe the not lamented Chrysler Sebring came close before it evolved into the Chrysler 200 for 2011. So, as the new V-Platform Nissan Versa is poised to be launched for the 2012 model year as the lowest price new car available in the USA you wonder if a new car priced so low is a bad car? The answer is a resounding no. But with the Versa and new Hyundai Accent arriving almost concurrently on the market it begs brief comparison.
2012 Nissan Versa Sedan
2012 Hyundai Accent Sedan
The all new Hyundai Accent has just been introduced and it may be the final part of Hyundai’s grand slam in sedans. First the Genesis, winner of AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA) in each of its three years on the market. Then the all new 2011 Sonata that won the only President’s Award (highest VSA score ever) given by AutoPacific and then won best in class for the model year. The all new Hyundai Elantra won best in class among compact cars for the 2011 model year. Three out of three isn’t bad. The new Accent is certainly a contender.
First we had the Sonata and now we have the Elantra. The Sonata was the direct hit to the gut but the Elantra is the uppercut that no one saw coming. Gunning for the respect of Hyundai naysayers, the Elantra delivers the quality, fuel economy, and price tag that will change minds and make believers.
While other automakers have raised the price of their new c-segment vehicles to make them in America with a profit, Hyundai has changed the game again. Hyundai seems to be bucking the trend these days of lofty price tags. The Elantra is a stylish value package assembled in the good ol’ U.S. of A. that needs to be at the top of your test drive list.
Last summer during a discussion with senior Hyundai management in Seoul, I asked “When can we expect to see a third plant for Hyundai and or Kia in the United States?” The response was “A third plant will be necessary when Hyundai and Kia sell 900,000 per year in the USA.”
In 2010, Hyundai sold 538,228 cars and light trucks in the USA and Kia sold 356,496 cars and light trucks. That is a total of 874,496 cars and light trucks for these two fast-growing brands. That number is also close enough for us to hypothesize that an announcement for a third Hyundai or Kia plant in the USA should be forthcoming.
Two USA Plants Already at or Above Capacity: Clearly, Hyundai is pushing the capacity of their Montgomery, Alabama plant. With the Sonata Mid-Size Sedan setting all-time sales records and the newly launched Elantra promising to sell very well, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama is out of capacity even at its increased capacity planning volume of 400,000 units. Hyundai has announced it is importing Elantras from Korea to meet extraordinary demand in the USA. Kia is adding a third shift to its West Point, Georgia plant producing Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe crossover sport utility vehicles.
Rumor – Mississippi Hyundai-Kia has likely squeezed as many concessions as possible from Alabama and Georgia to support its two plants there. A logical next choice still within range of Hyundai and Kia suppliers is Mississippi. With a third plant in the offing, any state would be willing to offer substantial concessions for the investment dollars and jobs a large scale plant inevitably generates.
Over the years, most Americans have considered small cars penalty boxes they were forced to drive because they couldn’t drive anything bigger or better. The Big Three concurred with their small cars designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator driver, at the lowest cost and at the lowest price. No wonder the Pinto/Bobcat, Vega, Omni/Horizon, Escort/Lynx, Cavalier/Sunbird, Cobalt/G5 never resonated. They sold in relatively large numbers because they had to to help their manufacturers meet CAFE requirements, but rarely did a buyer purchase one out of desire or lust. The Japanese partially solved the small car equation offering Civic, Corolla, Mazda3, Lancer, Impreza and more recently the Kizashi. All were desirable small cars with great quality offered at affordable prices. With their latest offerings, the Koreans are fully engaged with the new Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra. So, the small car – C-Class – segment is now ready for more real competition this time from Chevrolet, Hyundai and Ford.
Over the past couple of months, I have driven three new high volume C-Class cars that redefine the small car category in the United States if not the world. The Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus will each be a big seller and each has its positive attributes. They are within inches of each other in size and take each takes the word “cheap” out of the definition of a small car. The missing entrant in this bunch is the upcoming Honda Civic that will evolve for the 2012 model year, but while we’ve seen the car, the official specs and fuel economy data have not yet been released.