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Honda focuses on local development

A bit blue: Honda's Australian development team was involved with the shaping of the new Civic from the start of the project four years ago, including punishing prototype testing in the Northern Territory.

Tenth-generation Civic is Honda's most Australian-tailored model to date

19 May 2016

IN A bid to recapture diminished Australian sales, Honda has increased the involvement of its local development team in new-vehicle projects to forge a line-up with more tailor-made Down Under appeal.

The Japanese car-maker had limited influence on previous Australian market models, but the level of local involvement was stepped up for the new tenth-generation Civic that had received up to 350 pre-orders by the end of May.

Honda Australia says it was on board from the first stages of planning for the new small sedan and hatchback range four years ago, not just at the latter stages of the vehicle's development for final chassis tuning as is the case with some other brands.

With a comprehensive inclusion in the Civic's development, the local team was able to more heavily influence critical areas such as styling and performance to tailor a package that would more accurately target Australian tastes.

Speaking at the launch of the tenth-gen Civic, Honda Australia director Stephen Collins detailed Australia's involvement in the creation of the new model.

“At Honda Australia we've worked for four years on this car,” he said. “We were involved from day one, right from kick off. We've had product planners work for four year non-stop with this car – spec it, the ride, the handling, the design for our market.

“I think it shows how serious we are to really make this car successful.”

With a successful outcome to the Civic collaboration, Mr Collins confirmed that the Australian team would continue to be more active in the development of new models destined for Australia where possible.

“The Civic is a great example of a collaborative design and engineering effort across the various global markets. Where we can, we will continue to be involved in program development from an early stage. It's about getting the best outcomes for our customers.”

In addition to more conventional research and development processes, Mr Collins said the project took an unusual step about 24 months in when the team embarked on the Civic Caravan Tour.

“About two years ago we had two development teams come to Australia. They were R&D guys from Japan, Asia Pacific and our organisation, who visited 24 dealers across the country.

“We showed them confidential drawings and designs to get feedback and we changed a few things which we have never done before. The dealer network has also been involved more so than ever before in the development of this car.”

After that, Mr Collins revealed that prototype Civics had spent months on red dirt testing for Australia's tough conditions and unique challenges.

“We've also been involved with testing last year with a very heavily disguised hatch throughout New South Wales and the Northern Territory,” he said.

“Our local planning team has worked very hard with the development team at Honda R&D to get this car right for our market.”

Where some companies use Australian development programs to fettle final details such as suspension tuning and tyre fitment, Honda Australia senior product planning manager Chander Balasubramanian explained that the Civic project had been more holistic.

“The number one thing that we effected was the styling,” he said.

“We know that the Australian market is much more about pure style and more towards European taste than American. We requested that styling was the first important thing that we wanted.

“Number two was fun to drive and the third that we requested was technology.”

Mr Balasubramanian concluded by explaining that customising the new Civic for Australian tastes was only half the challenge and that its predecessor had underperformed not because of its design but because potential customers were not putting it in their consideration set.

“In the ninth-generation that was the problem,” he said.

But with the significant local input, Mr Balasubramanian said he was confident the new model would return sales figures to the numbers achieved by the more lucrative version before it.

“In the eighth-generation, in the first three years when we were very successful, seven in 10 people who test drove the car were buying the car and I think this car will be the same.”

The Civic sedan rolls into Australian showrooms in the second week of June, but will be followed by its hatchback and mighty Type R siblings next year.

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