Tuesday, December 27, 2011
The Rise and Fall of Honda Motors
I've been a Honda car owner for over 30 years now. I fell in love with Honda way, way back when I turned the ignition on that early 80's Accord and it ran so quietly and smoothly that I wasn't sure it was running.
I admired everything about this company. I read of the legendary Honda engine that still runs 24 hours per day at Honda corporate headquarters in Japan. I loved reading how this little upstart bike maker in the 40's chugged its way to automobile dominance. My family laughed at my weekend rendezvous with my Accord as I washed and waxed my prize Accord.
So accustomed to the fragility of American car lifespans, I made the fatal mistake of trading my first Accord in for a new one when it reached 80,000 miles. Silly me. I soon caught on that I could drive these Hondas for 200,000 miles...and did so. When one of our late 80's Accords reached 185,000 miles we gave it to our college age son who put tens of thousands more on that odometer. We soon became a multiple Honda family.
Then, sadly, a few years ago I began to see the cracks in the lovely facade of mighty Honda. In 2005 I ventured out to the nearest Honda dealer in Peoria to buy a Honda Odyssey mini-van. Having completed my internet research, to include getting the "fair" price selling price for an Odyssey I wished to purchase one of the last 2005 models as the new 2006 models were rolling into the showroom. Alas, we ran smack dab into one of those new car salesmen from the 60's. After a long back and forth session between "Mr. Greaseball" and the sales manager we could not come to an agreeable price. Our last offer was actually $500 dollars above what Edmunds was telling us was a "fair price". This was a "no trade-in", cash offer.
The following weekend we were cheered to complete our purchase at the Avondale Honda dealership. In fact, we were able to buy a 2006 model, with the same features, for less than was being asked for the year-old model at the previous dealership. Happily we were out the door at the Avondale dealership in less than an hour.
Our faith in the Avondale dealership was further strengthened when we regularly took the Odyssey in for periodic maintenance. Each time we brought the car in we were greeted with friendly service reps, fresh coffee and doughnuts and a crisp new newspaper as we awaited completion of maintenance. Everything was fine in "HondaLand".
Then a couple of years ago I began noticing severe vibration and road roar when my Odyssey reached a cruising speed of 65 mph. I took the van into the Avondale dealership, jointly rode with the service rep for a road test, and was told that the automatic transmission was failing. The dealership said they would call Honda to get approval to replace the transmission under warranty. I was amazed that a Honda transmission would be failing at four years of age! I left the Odyssey at the dealership and went home and began to research Honda maintenance problems. I was amazed to learn of thousands of owners who were experiencing similar problems. I was also amazed at the number of Honda recalls as well as other Honda failures.
Soon I got a call from the Honda dealership and was told that it wasn't the transmission, but was instead a faulty wheel bearing. They replaced it, but after reading all the scary internet postings on Honda problems I developed a wariness about the the manufacturing quality control of Hondas.
Sure enough, a few months later I began to experience the same type of road vibration and noise from the Odyssey. I again took the van in, described the problem, and was told it was only "tire balancing".
After buying a new set of Michelin tires, and after paying a couple of hundred dollars for tire balancing, I drove away only to find that within a couple of weeks I was still getting steering wheel vibration when the Odyssey reached cruising speeds.
During this period my wife's Honda Accord Ex's dashboard began lighting up like a Christmas tree. One maintenance light after another began appearing. Then we began getting recall letters on her Accord. The latest Honda recall came just this month on faulty air bags.
So, after limping along with our lest than trustworthy Hondas, we are no longer in love with once mighty Honda. Worse, as the economy sank we began getting telemarketing calls from the Avondale dealership. I have had no less than 50 of them, despite emailing them and voicing our irritation at this cheesy telemarketing.
Now, we change our oil at Walmart, afraid to take our Hondas to a dealership with a real fear that a dealership lacking business might not be below pulling a wire or two to run up the maintenance bill.
Sadly, last week I read that Consumer Reports has failed to crown the Honda Civic as a "BEST BUY" because the company has dumbed down the model and citing the cheap materials used in the manufacturing process. Honda has vowed to change out the model next year.
I say "too late". Like the Toyota fiasco, once you have created doubt in the mind of the consumer, once a customer has been burned by a dealership, you have lost that "warm and fuzzy" comfort so necessary for maintaining loyal customers.
My wife's Accord is due to be replaced. Rest assured, I'll be looking elsewhere as this 30 year Honda customer has seen the light....and too often it's the light on a Honda dashboard.