Road Tests Sales Legends

Sales Legend: Honda Civic

Time 12 years ago

civicHONDA’S Civic is a stalwart of the innovative Japanese company’s model range – but even so, it’s still surprising to remember what a long-runner it is.

Would you believe, it’s actually older than the Volkswagen Golf? Honda launched it back in 1972, making it the second-oldest Japanese car model line still running.

Mind you, if you look back at that 1972 original, you’ll see the Civic has changed a lot in that time. Sure, the Golf has grown, and is now a lot bigger than it originally was. Thus, so too is the Civic – however, unlike the Golf, the Civic has actually jumped up a sector or so in its time. In the beginning, it was actually sold as a budget supermini…

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This was the car that helped turn Honda from a famed motorbike maker into a recognised producer of cars, too. Small, extremely economical, yet as large inside as some bigger saloons, it was notable in particular for taking the US by storm.

American buyers were already well tuned to the compact ideas of the VW Beetle, as an alternative to huge home-grown machinery. With the Civic, a far more modern and hi-tech new alternative became available: Honda even wisely borrowed VW’s USP in the marketing tagline: ‘Gets You Where You’re Going.’

And so it did, with 40mpg potential. It was a massive hit, and set the ball rolling for all future Civic generations. Success in the UK and Europe came too, which meant Honda became established as a car brand in its own right.

With such honours came the need to press on – and so the Civic was replaced in 1980, with a bigger and more sophisticated machine. Then again in 1985, with a bigger and more sophisticated machine. Then again in 1988, with a… well, you get the idea.

By 1992, the Civic was sleek, hi-tech, offered in multi-body options and doing great high-margin business for Honda car dealers. Repeat custom was high, and the firm’s policy of frequent updates drew many more buyers in besides. Being a Honda dealer in this era was good news thanks to the high quality Civic.

The firm fumbled the ball with the 1996 dullard, but regained distinction with the wedgy 2001 model. Here, the car gained a cult
sub-following too, with the wailing, high-performance Civic Type-R version. It was the everyman’s Honda NSX, and took the screaming Honda VTEC’s high-rev fame to new highs.

Which brings us to the seventh generation Civic, on sale now, and still doing sterling business for the firm. It’s built in high numbers here in the UK, and the Swindon factory is so well rated, Honda even exports cars from here back to Japan! Believe us, praise comes little higher from Japanese firms.

In its near-four decades, the Civic has turned Honda from a well-known motorbike manufacturer into a worldwide giant, a genuine global player. It is a sales legend that remains a legendary Honda – we can’t see them doing a Toyota and canning this popular name any time soon.

It continues to keep pace with the times, too. OK, the IMA hybrid versions are not quite on the pace of the Toyota Prius, but they’re still innovative and are supplying Honda dealers with useful green buyer knowledge. This database of customers will prove useful in the future – particularly if Honda brings its cutting edge fuel cell models to the Civic range.

Meanwhile, the 240bhp Honda Type-R MUGEN – a near-£40k super-hardcore hot hatch – takes the other extreme, and then some!

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Even at that price, Honda is probably losing loads on each one, given how bespoke it is. As there will only be 20, collector status is guaranteed.

One of the longest-running car lines still on sale, the Honda certainly deserves legend status. It’s not hard to see why it breeds such loyalty and strong repeat business.


James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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