1998 Honda Accord -- Concept and Development

4/2/1997 10:45:00 PM

Around the time that the 1994 (5th generation) Accord was launched, Honda product planners were already planning its 6th generation replacement. The first step was to design a car that would be appropriate for each market. Global concept meetings were held with product planners from Honda's various worldwide markets every three months. From these meetings, it was decided that the new Accord should be distinctly different and tailored to the needs of Honda's four main markets: the U.S. (which would also include North, Central and South America, the Near and Middle East and Europe); Japan; Thailand and Australia. Designers in the four markets' design centers began simultane-ous work on a common but flexible platform. Beyond that, the Accord would be highly modified for each region. Width, wheelbase, length, interior volume, even styling would be different.

The U.S. sedan, code-named LS (for Large Sedan) would not just be a new model, but was to be an entirely new concept in the evolution of a world car. Built from a common platform, but unique to its markets. It will be manufactured only in the U.S. There will be no pilot production or "Mother" assembly line in Japan. Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc. (HAM), the Accord's U.S. assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio, was responsible for all manufacturing development, while continuing to produce the 5th generation Accord. Marysville was recently recognized by J.D. Power and Associates as the top-quality automotive assembly plant in the world.

A new Coupe (code-named AC for American Coupe) was planned for the U.S. and European markets and will not only be built in the U.S., but was also designed, developed and tested there by Honda R&D operations in North America. The new Coupe is a true coupe and not a two-door sedan. The interior and exterior are almost completely different from the Sedan, with only the instrument panel being shared inside and common headlights and door handles on the exterior.

Honda wanted the new Accord to have the high U.S. content, so during the preliminary stage of the design, meetings were held with U.S. suppliers and their input was sought. Suppliers were also to be brought in again as the design work advanced and again when the prototype was developed.

U.S. Honda dealers also played a role early in the design process. American Honda's dealer product advisory committee reviewed a Sedan mockup at an early stage in its design at HGT (Honda's Japanese R&D facility) and then again in the U.S. Their input was valuable in shaping the final concept of the Accord.

Current Accord customers also were surveyed (the Accord has one of the strongest owner loyalty ratings). American Honda design specialists met with owners in their homes throughout the United States in the fall of '93 and again in 1995, in an effort to better understand their lifestyles and needs.

In addition, focus groups of Accord owners, intenders and rejectors were con-ducted throughout the U.S. From these focus groups, product planners and designers were able to better understand the priorities of the Accord buyer, what they liked about the Accord and what they disliked. Accord owners praised its traditional durability, value, quality, reliability and low maintenance, plus the satisfaction of the Honda owner experience. Rejectors tended to cite the previous Accords' performance, price and overall styling.

From these surveys, a demographic and psychographic profile of the target Accord customer emerged. The new Accord was targeted at 35- to 55-year-old men and women (baby boomers): affluent, educated and successful. Their pri-orities in a sedan were size, price, styling and performance.

For the Coupe, the target customer group skewed slightly younger and slightly more female; however, a second customer group would likely be males in their mid- to late 40s, looking for a sporty personal car. Coupe users also had differ-ent priorities. Many rejectors felt that previous Accord coupes were too sedan-like. Coupe-oriented customers placed styling first, performance second, price third and size last.

From their research, the planners and engineers drew up a set of goals for the new Accord. First, they wanted the new Accord to offer more value for the money than any Accord in the past. A tall order, considering the Accord's history as a value leader in its class.

The new Accord would also be even roomier in virtually every respect than its predecessor. It would be a larger, more practical car with 115.6 cu. ft. of interior volume (106.3 for the Coupe). And it would also have more utility, with more usable storage.

Pricing was targeted to stay at about the same level as the previous model. This would require achieving new manufacturing efficiencies, as well as incorporat-ing new technologies. In addition, this would have to be done without compro-mising the Accord's outstanding reputation for quality or high content. To the contrary, Honda engineers planned on increasing the number of features offered and the overall refinement of the new Accord.

Styling had to be all new and represent a break with the previous generation Accord. The 1998 Sedan features a large, glassy cabin with outstanding out-ward visibility (a Honda trademark) and elegant, restrained, European styling. Although identifiable as an Accord, the Coupe's distinctive, individualistic and aggressive exterior and interior styling shares practically nothing in common with its Sedan sibling or predecessor.

Honda designers also intended for the new Accord to offer more driving enjoy-ment. More powerful engines would improve performance and a new suspen-sion system would offer a new level of ride comfort and handling. The interior and exterior would be more refined, offering more comfort and style as well as new technologies, such as automatic, filtered air conditioning.

The Accord has always been on the leading edge of what Honda calls social responsibility, and this newest Accord was to continue this important Honda tradition. The 1998 Accord offers excellent safety protection. It is more theft-proof and has exceptionally high levels of emission reduction, all without any penalty to driveability or fuel economy.

In short, the Accord was to retain its status as a benchmark for other family sedans and coupes and move from its previous compact-car status to the mid-size car ranking, while keeping roughiy the same exterior dimensions.