Honda (NYSE:HMC) is set to launch a refreshed version of its popular Accord sedan for 2016. The U.S. version of the company's midsize sedan gets a substantial makeover for 2016, with new grille and taillight designs, suspension updates, a fresher interior, and a bunch of new high-tech features. It's just in time, because sales of Honda's flagship have been slumping.
Sedan sales are down, but most competitors are doing better
Through July, U.S. sales of the Accord have fallen almost 14% in 2015. That's not all Honda's fault, though. Sales of midsize sedans, in general, have slumped as gas prices have fallen, and more buyers have chosen crossover SUVs over traditional four-door sedans.
Taken as a group, U.S. sales of the five top-selling midsize sedans have fallen 5.6% this year. But Honda has been hit worse than its rivals.
Of the five bestsellers in the segment, only Nissan's (OTC:NSANY) Altima has managed a tiny (1.4%) year-over-year sales increase. The others have all declined -- but none has declined quite as far as the Accord, which has fallen into third place behind Toyota's (NYSE:TM) Camry and the Altima in the 2015 sales race.
Honda's overall U.S. sales haven't been awful. The company has managed a 2.7% year-over-year increase through July, capturing some of the movement to SUVs with its popular CR-V, and the new smaller HR-V crossovers.
Those crossovers helped boost Honda's profit last quarter. But it's clear that the company's U.S. flagship needed a jolt -- and that jolt will be arriving at dealers soon.
A new face, new technology, and a long list of little upgrades
Aside from the new grille, which follows other recent Honda designs, the most noticeable change to the Accord for 2016 is the addition of a much-improved seven-inch touchscreen to the center of the dash. Top-level Accords will come with both Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto included in the new system, which includes upgraded voice-recognition capabilities.
Structural improvements have made the new Accord quieter, Honda says, and suspension tweaks should improve ride and handling. Under the hood, the 2.4 liter four-cylinder gets a slight bump in fuel economy, while the 3.5 liter V6 offered in top-trim models continues unchanged.
While the new styling could be somewhat controversial -- recent Honda efforts have mostly not been praised for their stunning good looks -- the incremental improvements seem to go a bit beyond the usual mid-cycle freshening rolled out by automakers after a model has been on the market for a few years.
Will the refreshed Accord be enough to win back buyers?
The changes to the 2016 Accord are probably enough to give Honda loyalists pause before they buy a CR-V. And the ride and handling improvements -- and that touchscreen -- might win a few more buyers in back-to-back test drives against the competition.
But will it be enough to reverse the Accord's dramatic sales slump, and put some gains on the board? We'll find out during the next few months.