There’s no point being innovative if you haven’t got the competency behind a product to back it up. Likewise, and particularly in the automotive industry, competency will only get you so far if there’s not the innovation to go with it.
Which brings us nicely to Honda. The once great innovator of the industry, Honda’s halo has slipped somewhat in recent years, the brand now making a range of deeply competent but altogether uninspiring products. Truth be told, Honda hasn’t given us anything to be excited about for years, the likes of the previous Civic Type R, S2000 and NSX, and even its involvement in F1, being long consigned to the history books.
I can remember visiting industry test bed MIRA in 2011 ahead of the launch of the current Civic hatchback, and the engineers looking completely bewildered at why we were probing so much about why there wasn’t going to be a new Civic Type R, and not about how good the perceived quality was of the new car, or how clever it was in the wind tunnel. It’s because stuff like this, interesting and worthy as it is, is not stuff to get excited about. It’s the stuff that fills your news story after the eye-catching intro, or what pushes a purchase over the line after that initial hook. And it’s that lack of an eye-catching intro and initial hook with the products rather than some underlying issue with the brand or quality that Honda has suffered through not having in recent years. As the saying goes, if you’re standing still and not innovating, you’re actually moving backwards. Honda’s sales figures would testify to that.
Thankfully, Honda has cottoned onto this. And how. Honda knows it has innovated best when it has entered the performance arena, so it used its pre-show event at the Geneva motor show to attract some ‘Honda is back’ headlines. There was the new Civic Type R, the fastest, most powerful, and perhaps most extreme front-wheel drive hot hatch ever. We also got the European debut of the new NSX, which comes with the most advanced hybrid performance drivetrain we’ve ever seen this side of the LaFerrari/Porsche 918/McLaren P1 trio. And then there was its return to F1 as a partner with McLaren, rekindling perhaps the most famous partnership in that sport of all time.
Tomorrow, we’ll also get to see the new HR-V compact SUV and the new Jazz. Both hugely significant products in their own right, but note they are not the hook for Honda here at the Geneva show. They are the competent products that fill the range, which have some of the magic of the inspiring flagship models at the top of the range rubbed off onto them.Is Honda back, then? Whatever it is, it’s back to being Honda again, offering the innovation to go with the competency.