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Honda must stop ignoring enthusiasts:
Honda's commercial reputation has been built on a solid foundation of reliable, well-engineered products. However, the company became truly iconic with models that initially appealed to a small niche of enthusiasts. These enthusiasts were motor journalists...the gatekeepers of the automotive press.
Seemingly, every Honda from the eighties onward stood out with exceptional build-quality, handling and aesthetics. The competition couldn't come close to satisfying the press on so many levels. Due to this, Honda was publicly recognized and praised in publications worldwide. The news spread in spite of other companies offering frivolous countless add-ons, gimmicks and sales incentives. Honda simply continued to develop an ethos which valued imbuing anachronistic traits in every model and every successive model year. Stereo and tech equipment can date rapidly during the cycle of an automobile, but the elemental prose of great handling and engineering endured through their entire product line. Those traits, combined with unprecedented reliability, defined Honda in America.
Throughout the decades Hondas have been raced both on track and on the streets. While the company formally teamed with the likes of John Surtees, team McLaren, Gordon Murray and Aryton Senna...racers of a different kind also chose Honda as their chariots of choice. These racers reignited what would eventually become the modern street race scene. As controversial as this is...it remains an irrevocable part of the company's legacy in America. It's a legacy of hard-earned loyalty that most motor companies could only envy and is impossible to contrive. Yet, the Honda Motors of today, has disregarded and essentially denounced the community that helped build the company's broad spectrum of street-credibility.
Does this sordid history imply that street racers and professional racers like Aryton Senna are equivalents in regard to Honda's pop culture impact? Absolutely. Historically, have other marques benefitted from the word-of-mouth and camaraderie of street racers? Of course...General Motors, Ford and Mopar have practically instigated performance rivalries between their products for decades...on and off the racetrack.
Honda's hidden figure:
Shigeru Uehara is the engineering genius behind both the Honda S2000 and the original NSX (amongst others). This man was to Honda what Zora Arkus-Duntov was to Chevrolet. Yet, the company did little to promote the prolific nature of his genius beyond scant acknowledgement in Japan. This is nothing short of a missed opportunity and borderline disgrace. There is likely a simple, cultural explanation for that oversight which originates from Japanese corporate paradigms. Essentially, the corporate culture in Japan typically emphasizes the achievements of the entire team rather than glorifying any particular individual.
Conversely, America has always been a culture that promotes and embraces singular figures in leadership positions. Notable examples include well-known corporate giants (in the auto industry and beyond) like Steve Jobs, John DeLorean and Lee Iacocca. The "power of the individual" belief system has completely saturated American culture from television/movies, comic books...politics and religion. The concept, by definition, isn't vastly different from a messiah complex---Yet, it widely permeates the fabric of society without controversy. Think of every film which is based on the premise of "one man" saving the world. That is a very Western ideology.
In Japan, this concept is less widely recognized as valid. It can be seen in television/movies, media...even in politics and religion. Instead, society values the fair and even distribution of work and credit to the collective efforts of many. This notion is even reflective in the life of the average Japanese citizen. The salary gap between Japan's richest and poorest is far less extreme than in America.
It's easy to see how these diametrically opposed stances remain strong in each respective culture and define views of leadership, community and the "path to success". With the right strategy, Uehara could have easily been recognized both as Clark Kent in Japan, and Superman to Americans. Yet, the true tragedy isn't Uehara's relative lack of promotion in the US. The true victims were the uncanny masterpieces he helmed. Honda's upper management is ultimately responsible for this woeful pattern of disregard and missed opportunities. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to rectify this serial negligence since Mr. Uehara's retirement in 2007.
The secret museum, secret cars and overlooked achievements:
For those who are unaware, Honda's Torrance California headquarters is in close proximity to the company's (formally closed to the public) museum. It is allegedly available to enter by reservation, but (unlike Toyota's nearby museum) no contact information is publicly provided. In the facility lies a condensed lineage of motoring highlights featuring everything from early econoboxes to factory-built race cars. Yet, the company makes little mention of it and the engineering masterworks it houses. Select Honda devotees have made arrangements to view and document the collection, but those people represent an small minority of individuals usually with press credentials (or headstrong persistence).
Honda has also produced some of the world's most captivating prototypes without any fanfare. One notable example is the prototype all-wheel-drive B18c powered Integra GSR. This car was documented by a UK publication in the 1990s, but gained little exposure. Surely, a greater amount of information on the model could've conceivably dictated demand or (at very least) inspired owners with the power of dreams. Instead, Subaru and Mitsubishi dominated the performance car market with their AWD, rally-capable platforms.
The undistinguished fate of a single brilliant concept may've been forgivable, but unfortunately that's not nearly the only one. In 2009 Honda Performance Development created the S3700. It was an engine-swapped AP2 S2000 CR which utilized a 3.7-liter V6 mated to the original 6-speed and weighed approximately thirty-nine pounds less than the standard car. While this model is mentioned briefly on Honda Performance Development's website, it isn't even a whispered rumor within Honda fanboy circles. The company also ignored the efforts of grassroots enthusiasts who created their own swapped vehicles. Both the Honda Fit and CR-Z were subjected to K-Series swaps by privateers without factory consideration or acknowledgement.
Lastly, there's the 600cc (yes, 600 cubic-centimeter) S Dream Streamliner of 2016. Admittedly, this vehicle attained greater exposure than any of the above, but was also the victim of neglect in regards to publicly available details. The "fastest Honda ever" achieved an astonishing 261.875 mph standing mile FIA record at Bonneville in September 2016 with a diminutive three-cylinder, 63-hp (yes, 63 horsepower) engine. However, internet-scouring enthusiasts will find that there's nothing clear about exactly HOW this feat was accomplished.
The turning point:
With the crystal clear vision of hindsight, it's easy to pinpoint Honda's sharp dive from relevancy amongst enthusiasts. Enter the fourth-generation Integra DC5/Acura RSX and the seventh-generation Civic. Bluntly, (and it has to be put that way) these cars are pathetic compared to their predecessors. Research uncovers that Honda designers deliberately altered the exemplary proportions of the Integra to cater to the American market's commercial embrace of the first-generation Audi TT. The Civic followed suit due to its shared architecture.
Additionally, the models lost their characteristic double-wishbone suspension setups...while gaining copious amounts of weight. These portly platforms alienated true enthusiasts, but caught the attention of the fleeting, attention-deficit, comparative shoppers. All told, the RSX/DC5 wooed some fair-weather buyers away from their Corollas for a pitiful four years until the model was cancelled altogether. To compare: the third-generation Integra thrived for nearly twice as long...at seven years. Other casualties of the post-Soichiro Honda corporation included the CR-X and Prelude. Expectedly, the compromised, but evergreen Civic soldiered-on akin to the Mustang II.
A little less conversation...a little more action:
Today's Honda Motor Co. selectively touts the tech-based minutiae that fits within the conservative image they currently want to project. Most of the time, the focus is pseudo-environmental, interior capacity or some feature unrelated to vehicle dynamics. Incidentally, many of these features are antithetical to attracting buyers who actually like to drive. It's important to remember that Honda's breakthrough success weighed heavily upon capturing the hearts of drivers who sought thrilling vehicle dynamics.
Researching the current NSX will result in the endless droning of trendy buzzwords related to aerodynamics, hybridization, electric motors and its luxurious features. Confounding as this would be to the average performance car buyer; Honda is convinced that this is the proper way to market their global flagship sports car. Not only is this ineffective in captivating car enthusiasts and the motoring press (who have been eagerly waiting for over a decade)...it also contradicts to the purity of the original car. To underscore this diversion of ethos, the actual performance of the new car falls short of the long-in-the-tooth (and cheaper) Nissan GTR.
A little more strategic action would've gone a long way. If Honda engineers had the clarity to choose ONE system (hybrid or AWD) they likely would've achieved much more. Imagine if the car were a rear wheel drive hybrid (while keeping the twin-turbo V6)...It likely wouldn't have surpassed the GTR's road holding capabilities, but would've been more fun to drive. It would've conceivably been the performance equivalent of a Ferrari 488 for much less money. Even if they had gone strictly with a non-hybrid, AWD twin-turbo setup...it would've been more compelling than it is now. The car is overly compromised and complicated in too many ways. The new NSX is the result of overindulgence and a critical lapse in judgement. Is there any hope for the future?
Honda needs to design a revolution:
The most memorable Hondas were lean, mean fighting machines...and they looked like it. It's imperative to bring back clean design. Sloppy, busy design conveys exactly the process used to create it. A poorly executed design is more difficult to render, model, sculpt, build and view. Similar to their reputations, Hondas of the past have retained their timeless aesthetic appeal. Until recently, Hondas weren't known for fashionable chrome-plated embellishment and whimsical, wavy sheetmetal that will age quickly.
Stop spoiling the American buyer:
While Honda has seemingly given up on the athleticism of its past, sugary gadgets have overwhelmingly filled the void. As expected, this diabetes-inducing binge for more has left Honda corporation with an endless list of demands that it frantically tries to fulfill...to its customers' detriment. The result is more features, more space, bigger SUVs...in addition to lukewarm hybrids and CUVs. Simply put, there isn't enough bandwidth to convey a strong message of what Honda represents anymore.
If yesterday's Honda succumbed to the American tastes of the past it would've been disasterous. There would've been "Brougham Edition" Civics with Landau roofs and plush, chaise lounge-style seating. Oh, not to mention, interiors swathed in thick velour or Corinthian leather.
Offering the new NSX with optional $6,000 USD paint jobs sends the wrong message and isn't consistent with the ethos of the car or marque. Similarly, a huge, heavy and lavishly feature-laden Civic isn't what buyers expect either. While these traits may superficially seem to be what's required for relevancy in the current marketplace...contradicting the trends may prove to be more true to Honda's heritage.
The Honda of yesterday was very judicious with what it chose to be paramount for utility and driving enjoyment. For decades, the company did it with unwavering skill which separated it from the crowd. Today's Honda does little to instill owners with the discipline to discern good value from excess...great design from marginal...a Honda from everything else.