When you think about diminutive Hondas, the 2007 Fit fits the bill. It has an overall length of 157.4 in. and a 96.5-in. wheelbase. Tiny, right? Well, consider these numbers: overall length 162.8 in.; wheelbase, 93.7 in. Pretty much in the same ballpark. But those are figures not for some B-car, but for the first-generation Honda Accord. And while the Fit has four doors, the 1976 Accord was available as a three-door hatch; the sedan didn’t appear until 1979.
If you want to know how far the auto industry has come in a comparatively short period of time, consider this: the eighth-generation Honda Accord Sedan is in the EPA “Large” classification (predicated on the interior volume, 120 ft3). The 2008 Accord is 194.1 in. long (up 3 in. from the seventh generation) and has a 110.2-in. wheelbase (2.3-in. longer than the ’07).
And speaking of how things have changed, consider this: the original Accord had a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produced 68 hp. The 2.3-liter four available for the ’08 Accord provides 200 hp, and there is an available 3.5-liter V6 that generates 268 hp. And speaking of Accords and engines: there wasn’t a V6 available until 1995, when a 170-hp 2.7-liter engine was offered.
One last thing: the first Accord had an MSRP of $3,995.
OK. One more. The second-generation Accord, which was launched in 1982,
was the first vehicle built by Honda of America Manufacturing’s Marysville Auto Plant in Ohio. (They started building motorcycles in Marysville in 1979.) That first sedan, now in the collection at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, was produced on November 1. Through the remainder of 1982, the plant manufactured 968 Accords. Today the production capacity in the Marysville plant is 1,800 vehicles per day. (And in addition to Accords, Marysville Auto Plant (MAP) manufacturers Acura TLs and Acura RDXs.) Nearly nine million vehicles have been produced there since that start. One interesting aspect of the launch of the ’08 Accord in Marysville is that Clement D’Souza, engineering project leader for the vehicle, explains that because they have been continuously improving the operations at MAP, the integration of the ’08 model didn’t require a major tear-up of the facility. That is, they’ve been running the Honda New Manufacturing System at MAP since 2002, when the ’03 Accord was launched. The New Manufacturing System is predicated on utilizing flexible equipment in the body shop so that changeovers are more a matter of reprogramming and retooling end effectors than anything else. Two years ago they installed a $123-million paint shop at MAP. In early ’07, a door assembly department was installed in part of the area where the old paint shop had been. Even though the dimensions of the 2008 Accord Sedan and the 2008 Accord Coupe—which are completely separate vehicles, sharing no body panels whatever—are larger than the vehicles they replace*, D’Souza indicates that putting the new vehicles into the plant was essentially a matter of doing what needed to be done in a rather matter-of-fact manner. Note that he isn’t saying it was easy. Nor that it was simple. Rather, that it wasn’t particularly extraordinary, because that, in effect is what they do.
One of the things that they’ve been doing with the Accord is selling more of them year after year with a considerable consistency, being in the top five of sales in the U.S. for almost 20 years. Historically, the vehicles that it was in the greatest head-to-head competition were the Toyota Camry and the Ford Taurus. While the Camry not only stays in the game but leads it (it has been the best selling car for five years in a row), Taurus isn’t the competitor it once was, and Nissan has come on with the Altima. (Other competitors in the mix are the Ford Fusion, the Hyundai Sonata, the Saturn Aura, and the Nissan Maxima). Gary Robinson, Accord product planner, acknowledges that whereas prior to 2002, the Accord was the young, sporty choice and the Camry wasn’t. But at that point, the Altima took that position, and moved the Accord to the middle, between it and the Camry. So if the Altima is along the emotional vector and the Camry along the rational vector, in setting about to develop the new Accord they picked a point that essentially combined the two factors. While he argues that the Accord Sedan—is the new benchmark, combining the sportiness of the Nissan and the luxuriousness of the Toyota—because there is the Accord Coupe, it pushes the sportiness vector to a new velocity: the Sedan has a three-box shape and an overall European senior sedan-style theme; the Coupe is sleek and sharp with more of a fanboy appearance. Kunihiko Tachibana, assistant chief engineer, Department 1, Styling Design Development Div., Honda R&D (Saitama, Japan), the stylist of the Coupe, talks of how he wanted to create a vehicle that is bold, smart and athletic. Gary Robinson describes it as “an exclamation point.” For the vehicle that had once been sandwiched between two competitors, it has moved somewhere else entirely.
Honda has been promoting a “Safety for Everyone” initiative, one largely driven by its Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure. Essentially, what this means is that the body structure is engineered so that in the event of a frontal collision, energy is directed to lower and upper structural elements (not just lower, as is often the case in vehicle structural design), including the floor frame rails, side sills, and A-pillars. As vehicles have been rolled out—starting with the ’05 Odyssey minivan and the Acura RL sedan—Honda (and Acura) have been utilizing the ACE structure. So the ’08 Accord has ACE (the fact that 48% of the Accord unibody is high-strength steel is helpful in this regard, as well). But it has also has standard ABS, electronic brake distribution, brake assist, Vehicle Stability Assist, traction control, dual-stage and dual threshold front airbags, dual-chamber front-seat side airbags, all-row side curtain airbags . . . You get the picture.
Although the center of gravity tends to be something of concern to those who are producing (or driving) sport utility vehicles, not sedans and coupes, Honda engineers actually lowered the center of gravity for the new Accord by 10 mm. This was done physically, in part, through the lowering of the engines’ centers of mass, 10 mm lower for the V6 and 8.5 mm lower for the inline four. Why? To enhance handling. Remember: one of the attributes of Hondas has long been “fun to drive,” and the engineers haven’t forgotten that. Speaking of handling, one thing that is interesting about the front suspension is that whereas many vehicle manufacturers are now touting their use of aluminum components, the Accord front lower control arms are forged steel; they attach to a stamped steel box-section subframe. There is a stamped steel upper control arm and a forged knuckle. The front suspension tower brace (on all models except for the base) is a tubular steel component. OK. There is aluminum used in the multilink rear suspension: an aluminum knuckle. The A-arm, lower links and toe-control link are steel.
Under the hood there are four choices. There are two fours and two sixes. There is a 180-hp four available only in the Sedan. There is a 200-hp four available in either the Sedan or the Coupe. A 3.5-liter 268-hp V6 is available in either model. And there is a 3.5-liter 268-hp V6 available only in the Coupe. That’s not a typo. 3.5 and 3.5; 268 and 268. However, the V6 available only in the Coupe is mated to a six-speed manual transmission and is meant to be a performance version. The V6 in the Sedan is mated to a five-speed automatic and it offers Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management system, a system that Honda has taken to a new level for the Accord. It can operate on all six cylinders, on three cylinders, and even on four cylinders, which is new. In the case of three-cylinder operation, one bank is shut off; the intake and exhaust valves are automatically closed, thereby minimizing pumping losses. For the four-cylinder operation, the #3 cylinder in the rear bank and the #4 cylinder in the front bank are turned off. In order to ameliorate the associated noise and vibrations associated with the switch over, an active control engine mount and active noise control technology are deployed.
Here’s something to consider: the Accord Coupe makes up less than 5% of Honda’s sales, but nearly 10% of sales to buyers under 30. With vehicles like the Civic Coupe—and the Fit and the Element—Honda is positioned for the younger buyer, despite not having a Scion-like brand. The point is that Honda recognizes the importance of younger buyers to the franchise. But given the comparatively small number of units sold, it might seem better in the short term if they simply sold sedans. However, given that they have the flexible manufacturing system in place at MAP, they are able to accommodate the build of the coupes, which provides a long-term advantage so far as the building of the customer base is concerned. Companies without this flexibility need to opt for the lowest common denominator.
If there’s one thing that Honda doesn’t do, it’s compromise.