The 2017 Honda CR-V has a new modular chassis, with more cargo room and rear legroom.
In the age of relentless spy shots, leaked patent filings and drawn-out teaser campaigns, automakers are generally terrible at keeping an upcoming debut to themselves.
So why was Honda so quiet ahead of last week's debut of the fifth-generation CR-V crossover?
It certainly had plenty to crow about with the redesigned model: the addition of a turbocharged engine, a new chassis, advanced safety features and a crisp new design.
But Honda didn't want to miss a beat. Given the popularity of the outgoing model, the outsize importance of the CR-V's segment, and a brisk schedule of debuts over the next several months, Honda had little patience for a long wind-up before the 2017 model begins arriving in dealerships a few weeks from now.
"This is how Honda likes to make debuts," Dave Sullivan, AutoPacific analyst, told Automotive News. "It's without much fanfare. No extravagant displays or pyrotechnics. Honda is letting the product do the talking. It's not the most exciting product, but CR-V is outselling the Accord, and that goes to show just how important of a vehicle this is for Honda."
That importance is only growing, as consumers increasingly give up on sedans in favor of crossovers, a trend that's expected to continue even if gasoline prices begin to rise again.
The trend has been especially good for the CR-V, which has racked up close to 4 million sales since its introduction in 1997 and leads the crowded compact-crossover segment amid stiff competition from Toyota, Nissan, Ford, Chevrolet and Subaru.
Although it was last redesigned for the 2012 model year and refreshed in 2014, the outgoing CR-V is still going strong, ranking as Honda's No. 2 seller through September, with 263,943 sales, up 1.5 percent from a year earlier.
With little appetite for incentive spending or fleet sales, Honda didn't want to put that volume at risk by telegraphing the redesigned model months ahead of time. The compressed timeline of the 2017 CR-V launch gave Honda and its dealers ample time to keep selling the older CR-V without throwing cash on the hood. September sales were up 6.5 percent, following a 5 percent rise in August.
Dealers will be able to switch over to the 2017 model quickly, without any downtime between the two iterations. To keep supplies steady, Honda will start building CR-Vs at the Greensburg, Ind., plant where it builds Civics, in addition to its factories in East Liberty, Ohio, and Alliston, Ontario.
"I think it's a very deliberate move -- and probably a very smart move -- on the part of Honda to maybe reduce pressure on incentive support," Bob Navarre, former chairman of Honda's dealer advisory board and owner of Valley Honda in suburban Chicago, told Automotive News. "It's such a high-volume vehicle now that I think if you took some percentage of market and put it on hold earlier than you need to, it might have been a more costly transition."
Honda has long held a tighter rein on fleet sales and incentive spending than other automakers. "Keeping incentives low in a record market means you're keeping more money to the bottom line but also you're not distressing the vehicles," John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda, told Automotive News, commending General Motors for adopting a similar approach. "I think it's a good indication also that customers are buying the product for what it is."
Honda's hurry-up offense continues. The Paris auto show marked the debut of the Civic Type R Concept, which will be followed by the Civic Si debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, the next-generation Odyssey minivan debut early next year and a redesigned Accord later in the year.
Honda has gotten out of the oddball business such as the Element, Crosstour, and ZDX to focus on their core model lineup, and it is paying off handsomely," Sullivan said. "I don't think any other manufacturer out there is looking at Honda right now and not feeling a bit of envy."