DEXTER, MI – Getting a vehicle just right in appearance and technical specifications can be a daunting challenge for a manufacturer.
A case in point is the ’16 Civic sedan.
Divisions existed within Honda on what was the right interior for the car, as well as when to introduce the automaker’s new 1.5L direct-injected and turbocharged 4-cyl.
“This interior is not actually the interior we started with,” Gary Evert, chief engineer for the sedan body style of the ’16 Civic and assistant chief engineer for the project as a whole, tells media here during a preview for the car.
A competition within the company’s design unit resulted in two interior concepts in contention for production, and the interior that made it into the sedan was not the original winner.
“Our global executive at the time, who was over both R&D and sales, chose the other one,” Evert tells WardsAuto in an interview.
He describes the original winning interior as having a “traditional sport” look inspired by Japan’s animated Gundam robots.
The other interior concept, favored by Evert, his American R&D team and American and Japanese designers, was more sophisticated, elegant and “synchronized overall.”
Fortunately, the ’16 Civic’s global chief engineer, Mitsuru Kariya, favored this interior, too.
“He was with us,” Evert says.
But the refinement on the more sophisticated-looking cabin wasn’t quite complete.
“I could see how (the global R&D and sales executive) would have chosen the other one, because it looked a little bit more advanced at the time,” Evert says.
So designers working together in Japan “went underground for a few weeks” to finish the not-quite-refined-but-sophisticated Civic interior.
“We went back as a global team together and said to the (global) executive, ‘We understand your choice, but we would like you to reconsider this interior because the team likes it much better.’”
The executive agreed and the rest is Civic history.
Turbo Intro Originally Later
Another battle was won regarding the car’s 1.5L turbo engine.
“This turbo was not even slated to be ready for the ’16 Civic,” Evert tells media here.
Although the Honda R&D team wanted to return the Civic to its sporty roots, and installing a turbo mill under the hood would be the perfect tool to achieve that, Evert says the engine was on track for a ’17 or ’18 model-year introduction. That timing would have coincided with the 10th-gen Civic’s mid-cycle refresh.
“But the team was so passionate about wanting to apply it from the outset, that through hard work and cooperation of the powertrain division, management and the (development) team, we’re able to introduce it today,” he says of Honda pulling ahead testing and production of the 1.5L, Honda’s first turbo in a U.S. vehicle.
While the U.S. has been the compact car’s best market for 30 years, the ’16 Civic marks the first time Honda’s North American R&D group led development of a global platform.
“There’s a maturing of an organization, and it was time for R&D in America to take that next step,” Evert tells WardsAuto.
Leading a product that’s going to be built in other regions – the 10th-gen Civic will be assembled in nine factories around the world – was formidable, he admits.
“It’s unbelievable the level of difficulty when you take that step from a North American product to a global product. Now you have so many variations coming off of it, it’s just phenomenal,” Evert says.
Regional tastes and government requirements were one puzzle to solve, and differing requirements at Honda’s manufacturing facilities were another.
“It’s a whole ’nother level of difficulty you’re stepping up to,” he says, noting a change made to the rear frame on the 4-door in North America, for example, could trigger changes to all variants all over the world.
Honda’s North American R&D also led the development of the forthcoming Civic 2-door, as a coupe is a North American body style, while Japan led the development of the 5-door hatchback, 4-door for markets outside the U.S. and powertrain for all cars.
The 10th-gen Civic coupe goes on sale this coming winter in the U.S., while timing for the 5-door hasn’t been revealed.
With the sedan body style, Evert says he wanted to make sure the car would be marketable globally. For instance, he didn’t want to have to do a stretched wheelbase version for the Chinese market.
That is one reason why the 10th-gen Civic sedan is 3 ins. (76 mm) longer than the ninth-gen model it replaces.