When it comes to cars, Americans love their tradition. Ours are some of the oldest carmakers in the world, with the rich histories of
Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Plymouth, AMC, Eagle and Mercury adding to the culture of their parent companies.
Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little; maybe we have killed off more car history in the last 25 years than we have created. The fact remains, though, that America is the source of some of the greatest continuing nameplates in automotive history – the Mustang and Camaro, the Chrysler 300 line, the Corvette, the Charger and Challenger; the list goes on for quite a while.
But it’s not just the American companies that have long-lived, historic nameplates. The Honda Civic has been around the U.S. market for 40 years (it was introduced in ’72 as a ’73 model). The Toyota Corolla, introduced in 1968, is even older. It is a similar story with regards to their larger siblings, the Accord and Camry. These cars have been with us for so long that the names, and the cars themselves, it seems, have become beloved.
Or have they?
Last year, Toyota put out a press release detailing its upcoming 2012 Corolla. Included with the usual self-congratulatory descriptions of the car’s features was the following line: “The Corolla’s design, created with input from styling studios in Turin, Italy, strikes a sporty profile.”
Predictably, that quote was greeted with something bordering on raucous guffaws by the automotive world. The folks at Jalopnik had a particularly tongue-in-cheek reaction that I found thoroughly amusing. All joking aside, though, this does raise an interesting question from a communication perspective: if these cars have come to a point where their makers are reaching this deep to make them appear to be something that they clearly are not, simply to make them interesting, might it be time for a reboot?
Let’s take a moment and reflect on what these cars were and what they have become. The 2012 Honda Civic is roughly the same size as a Honda Accord sold 20 years ago, and more than 10 inches longer and 600 lbs. heavier than a similar Civic of 1988 vintage. Those disparities only grow the farther back we go. Similarly, the Corolla has grown in size and weight to match the Camry of 20-odd years ago – some 600 lbs. heavier and 7 inches longer than the “same” Corolla was in ’88.
So these are pretty clearly not the same cars that they were even two decades ago, let alone at their introduction. Why, then, do their makers continue to cling to the same old maddeningly incremental updates to the same old cars with the same old names? Why do they try to paint them as something they are not in order to make them look interesting?
Year after year the Civic, Corolla, Camry and Accord are all top-10 sellers in the American market. Is it the name that carries the weight? If so, why would automakers like Toyota feel the need to try to paint that name in an unreasonably flattering light?
Honestly, I think that Honda and Toyota don’t really know what they want cars like these to be anymore. In an effort to be everything to everyone, they have become, boring, soulless hulks, lacking the personality that once made their namesakes so interesting and attractive to car buyers.
I think it’s time to reconsider continuing model lines like these; time to toss out the old and tired and see where some new blood and new ideas lead you.
What do you think?