The “Honda” That Isn’t

  • February 5, 2024

Once upon a time, General Motors had divisions such as Pontiac and Oldsmobile that sold Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles. When they began trying to sell repackaged Chevys, people became less interested in buying them. And then there were no more Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles.

Will the same happen to Honda?

For the first time in the company’s history, it will be trying to sell a repackaged General Motors product. Specifically, the electric version of Chevy’s Blazer. It will be repackaged and sold under the Honda badge as the Prologue.

But it’s a “Honda” in the same way that Rachel Levine is America’s first “female” admiral.

It’s understandable why Honda is trying to re-sell the Chevy Blazer EV. So as to not waste Honda’s resources on an EV.

Let Chevy (GM) absorb the cost of manufacturing this device for which there is no market. Honda gets the credit – with the government. Having an EV in Honda’s lineup helps improve Honda’s compliance profile with such rigmarole as the federal government’s mandatory MPG minimums (CAFE), which will shortly require each automaker’s combined fleet to average nearly 50 MPG. 

A device like the Prologue-Blazer is credited by the government with delivering “100 MPGe”  – even though it doesn’t travel anywhere near as far as that on a gallon-equivalent of electricity. Nonetheless, having a device that is credited with delivering “100 MPGe” in its lineup  improves Honda’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers, which helps Honda avoid the fines applied by the government for falling short of the CAFE MPG mandatory minimum. This helps Honda sell more Hondas that do sell, such as the Pilot and Ridgeline.

Having the Prologue in the portfolio also helps Honda with its “zero emissions” compliance profile. In air-fingers quotation marks because, like the “MPGe” thing, it’s a fraud – perpetrated by the government. To say battery powered devices don’t cause emissions because they don’t emit them is like saying a person who craps his pants hasn’t used the bathroom.

It’s a game, in other words.

See? We are selling – well, we’re trying to sell – battery powered devices, too!

It keeps the government off Honda’s back, somewhat.

But is also does something else that Honda might regret.

It’s not just that the Prologue isn’t a Honda anymore than Admiral Levine is a she – although that’s bad enough, because lies are never good.

Worse is that Honda risks suffering the reputational loss that will attend re-selling GM’s products. Honda does not have any meaningful control over the quality of GM-designed and GM-made vehicles. When something goes wrong with this Chevy, Honda will get the blame for it. (And much has already gone wrong with the Blazer device; see here for more about that.) People will associate Chevy’s problems with Honda’s brand and that’s not good – for Honda.

The other problem is the price of this device, which is just shy of $50,000 to start. That makes the “Honda” Prologue the most expensive offering in Honda’s lineup as well as an ominous . . . prologue about Honda’s future.

Honda built its brand on affordability, quality and ingenuity. Its cars were inexpensive – but not cheap. Honda made engines so clean they didn’t need catalytic converters to clean up their exhaust (e.g., the CVCC Civics of the mid-70s). So efficient they could go 50-plus miles on a gallon of gas (e.g., the CRX HF of the ’80s) without needing hybrid technology or even fuel injection to do it.

The company earned the business of buyers who knew that an Accord with a V6 would last 20 years and 250,000 miles – and still be worth something by then, too.

How does a pushing $50k device made by some other company fit in with this?

Does Honda really think its customers will be interested in this? Or able to afford this?

Another question that comes up when the discussion turns to this is – why bother with this?

Buyers lost interest in Pontiac and Oldsmobile when they were reduced to badges used to re-sell repackaged Chevys. Why bother? Why not just buy the Chevy – and at least have a Chevy? And who wants to pay more for a Chevy sold under a different badge? That’s why you can’t buy a new Pontiac or Oldsmobile anymore.

Turning vehicles into devices makes this worse in that they are all the same, irrespective of the badge. What is the difference-  in any meaningful sense -between a device sold by Tesla and the devices being sold by Chevy (and re-sold by Honda)? They are all battery powered devices. What meaningful differences are there, one lithium-ion (or Ultium, GM’s brand of battery) battery vs. another?

What meaningful difference is there between electric motors?

What you’re left with is different shaped and colored devices that are also mostly the same shape (e.g., a crossover-shaped thing) and mostly also the same color (e.g., silver or white or black, just like the appliances they are).

If that’s what the Prologue portends, it’s not looking good for Honda. It’s not looking good for probably three out of four existing brands of vehicles because why bother with so many different brands when they’re all re-selling the same things?

. . .

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