Complacency Costs Honda and Toyota Market Share in U.S.

The Battle Between Asian Rivals

Honda and Toyota have fallen down in three areas: New Product Development, Total Quality Management, and Supply Chain Management. As a result, they have lost market share to their Korean competitors: Hyundai and Kia. Honda’s profits dropped by 56% for the quarter ended Sept. 30, according to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Also, their U.S. market share has declined by 1% over the past year. Since 2008, Toyota has lost 4.5 percentage points in U.S. market share. In contrast, Hyundai’s (and Kia’s) U.S. market share has increased, from 1% in 1999 to approximately 9% in 2011.

Once, Honda and Toyota were both considered the gold standard in terms of automotive excellence. In the case of the latter company, U.S. executives traveled to Japan in order to understand the secrets of its highly touted, Toyota Production System. But no more.

In the following three sections, I will describe how Japan’s formidable competitors have lost ground to their Korean adversaries.

1. New Product Development

Since Apple ranked #1 in the Boston Consulting Group’s 2010 survey of the worlds most innovative companies, let’s examine Apple’s formula for success. A sleek look and feel—in addition to ease of use—is what distinguishes the company’s products. Steve Jobs indicated that beauty—not novelty—was the highest value. Design, as it were, is an intangible and emotional subject. So, let me share with you my personal experience relating to Honda’s automotive designs.

Our family currently owns two Honda’s: a 1999 Odyssey, and a 2007 Accord. In addition, my wife has owned several Toyotas. We are big Honda and Toyota fans. This fall we were in the market for a new car, so I test-drove Honda’s small SUV: the CRV.

A Boxy 2011 Honda CRV Small SUV
A Boxy 2011 Honda CRV Small SUV

It felt solid and sturdy, but the styling was boxy and dowdy. Immediately afterwards, I drove a Hyundai Tucson.

Not only was the styling beautiful, but also the interior of the Hyundai was contemporary and ergonomic. Although Honda is introducing a new 2012 version of the CRV in the near future, I wondered how could Honda’s management allow the company to become a design follower rather than the design leader?

A Sleek 2011 Hyundai Tuscon
A Sleek 2011Hyundai Tuscon Small SUV

 Incidentally, I test-drove a Kia (sister company to Hyundai) family SUV: the Sorento. In contrast to the Honda CRV, driving the Sorento was delightful. Several years ago, Kia hired Peter Schreyer, formerly Audi’s top design engineer. The Sorento’s Germanic solidness and craftsmanship showed during the test drive. The price was right as well. Ultimately, my positive emotional experience resulted in my buying a Sorento.

Another example of Honda design issues relates to last months introduction of the new, 2012 Honda Civic, which was widely panned in the press. Dan Neil, the Wall Street Journal’s auto writer, said it all: “The redesigned 2012 Honda Civic…is a dud. A Sham. A shud. Massive fail, LOL.” A salesperson at a local Honda dealer said this:  “I could not believe it. The 2012 Honda Civic lacked basic features such as Bluetooth.” As a result of the criticisms received, Honda is responding by rushing a mid-cycle, re-design of the Civic to the market.

In the past, Korean car designs were neutral. It was difficult to tell the difference between one model and the equivalent Japanese car. Now, Hyundai’s design prowess is leaving the two largest Japanese producers in the dust.

A 2012 Kia Sorento Family SUV
A 2012 Kia Sorento Family SUV

Superior design is one of the reasons why Hyundai and Kia have increased their  U.S. market share at the expense of their Japanese competitors. Honda needs to restructure its design group, beginning by bringing in a new design czar, who will oversee the creation of products that delight customers.

2.    Total Quality Management

Akio Toyoda, CEO and grandson of Toyota’s founder, has acknowledged that his firm chased market share over quality during the last decade. The result has been a car wreck: from 2008-2010 Toyota recalled over 10 million cars.  Although Toyota has taken measures to shore-up its quality shortcomings, quality is all-about perception. And the chickens are now coming home to roost: During the last three years, Toyota’s U.S. market share has declined from 16.5% to 12.5% (2011). 

In contrast, the Koreans’ quality has risen substantially. This year, Hyundai and Kia ousted mainstays Honda and Toyota to take the #1 spot in customer loyalty. The Sonata–Hyundai’s newly designed mid-sized sedan–won Road & Track magazine’s 2011 International Car of the Year award. In addition, Hyundai and Kia provide a standard 5 year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, whereas Toyota and Honda offer only  a 3 year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty,  There is a new sheriff in town.

3.      Supply Chain Management

Toyota’s and Honda’s supply chain network needs to be re-evaluated and reengineered. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, the appreciation of the yen vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar has penalized production in Japan. Profitable automobile manufacturing there has become difficult at best, impossible at worst. There are several ways of dealing with the fluctuating exchange rates as well as with the appreciation of the yen:

a)    Develop robust forecasting models for predicting short term and long-term exchange

b)    Hedge currencies to neutralize the effect of fluctuations.

c)    Offshore assembly/production of automobiles to lower cost countries and/or to countries
where the currency is depreciating. For example, Kia now produces its Sorrento in Georgia, U.S.

d)    Outsource components to suppliers in lower cost countries.

e)    Create excess, flexible capacity so that production can be shifted in response to
intermediate term changes in foreign exchange rates.

Second, as advocated in a recent blog post, all automobile manufacturers must evaluate and re-think their supply chain networks to mitigate against the risk from natural disasters. Honda had 113 suppliers that were located in areas that were affected by Japan’s March, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Shortly after the earthquake, the company was unable to establish contact with more than 40 of them. (Source: Autoweek). Currently, the introduction of the 2012 Honda CRV may be delayed due to the flooding of Honda’s auto plant in Thailand.

Although Just-in-time (JIT) inventory control—or lean operations—has been a dominant global operations strategy, some of its precepts need to be challenged. For example, some automotive companies have reduced the number of suppliers for critical components to a single-source. But when natural disasters cripple the component supplier, final assembly plants must curtail production; in some cases, they are forced to shutdown their operation.

This is exactly what happened during the Sept. 30 quarter. Due to supplier shortages of components and sub-assemblies, both Toyota and Honda had to curtail production. When shopping for cars this summer, a sales manager told me that a major Toyota dealer in the western suburbs of Chicago parked their cars diagonally, because they wanted to hide the fact that their inventory of new autos was less than 50% of what it should have been.

Unlike the Japanese, the Korean auto companies are less reliant on suppliers in Japan and Thailand. Thus, during the quarter ended Sept. 30, Hyundai and Kia did not experience component shortages due to the recent natural disasters.

In summary, there is a saying: “You cannot sell oranges from an empty cart.” If product is unavailable, regaining market share becomes impossible, and achieving acceptable levels of profitability amounts to a fiction.

Toyota and Honda can do a better job of evaluating—and modifying—their supplier networks in order to minimize risks. There are many risks that can affect the smooth functioning of a supply chain. The main threats that need to be dealt with immediately relate to natural disasters and currency fluctuations.


Honda and Toyota are both great companies. However, they have stumbled badly, and need to regain their footing. To right their teetering ships, they must radically reshape processes in three areas: New Product Development, Total Quality Management, and Supply Chain Management.

What other factors do you think account for Toyota’s and Honda’s misfortunes? What do they have to do to recover?

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  • Joel Brosk

    Consider also Honda’s inability to have adequate style and content to promote Acura as a seperate luxury division. Similarly, Lexus has not been able to establish a presence other than in the US and China because their models lack the look and feel of the competition. (BMW, Mercedes, Audi and now Hyundai)

    • Timothy Mojonnier


      You make a good point. I read in today’s paper that Lexus concedes that they will be overtaken by BMW as the #1 luxury car brand. Obviously, the supply problems are a factor. But top management at Lexus concedes that “competitive pressures” are also a factor.

  • Mark

    OMG, you are so RIGHT. Honda needs to change #1-more agressive design.Like hyundai-spend a little extra$$ on look and goodies like bluetooth, HID headlights-not so expensive but so appealing. I think Quality in honda case is OK. Parts availability is a little more difficult issue to resolve. But you made good point.



    • Timothy Mojonnier


      Thanks for your feedback. I agree that quality with Honda is ok, we own two Hondas, and they have been very reliable and maintenance costs have been low. I agree with you that Honda’s main failing has been its lackluster designs.

      As you correctly indicated the supply chain is a more complex issue. Given that there are 20,000 parts in a car, there are no easy solutions. Still, there are actions that Toyota and Honda can take to eliminate the shortages of components that both companies have experienced.

  • John J. O’Leary Jr.

    Great insight, you hit the nail on the head!

    John J. O’Leary Jr.

    • Timothy Mojonnier


      Thank you for the complement.

      Tim Mojonnier

  • Tom Yoder

    Good write-up… being an Audi guy for almost 40 yrs (first one in 1973…) I figured that the design for Kia would start changing when they brought on Peter Schreyer !!!

    Tom Yoder

  • Tom Yoder


    Thanks for your comment. When I took a test drive in the Kia Sorento, I realized that this car felt like the VW Passat that I once owned. It was sturdy, rugged and felt like a driver’s car. Only later did I learn that Kia had hired away Audi’s top design engineer.

    Honda and Toyota can turn-around their recent history of producing lackluster designs. But to do so, they need someone like Peter Schreyer to lead their design teams in the right direction.

  • Jim Waszak


    The article is well written. And made some good points. It does a good job of establishing your expertise. Your point on design of Honda and Toyota is excellent. They make good, but mostly boring cars. Not sure how that ties to supply chain. I also have an emotional reaction when I hear about Toyota and Honda having problems. Mostly, I feel, “that’s great!”. I tend to blame them (probably unfairly) for popularizing econoboxes. To me, a real car is a 1970 Chevelle SS 454. Lousy gas mileage, marginal quality, but you can smoke the tires for a city block with no problem.

    I think some of the market share loss is due to the Tsunami as their inventories are just way down.

    • Timothy Mojonnier


      Thanks for sharing your comments. I, too, remember the muscle cars from the 60’s and 70’s. They were exciting, and the Beach Boys even wrote a song about them: “Little GTO.”

      The popularity of those cars–during the heyday for the U.S. automobile industry–suggests that the consumer’s ultimate connection with a car is an emotional, intangible one. Lately, Honda has been failing to make that connection–and can only do by creating designs that delight consumers.

      I also agree with your comment about the Tsunami, and its effect on 3rd quarter inventories of cars.

  • Tom Burt

    Great article. I had a ’97 Civic that I had for 12 years since I bought in ’98. What a great car. I now have an ’08 Civic that I am very unhappy with. Interior materials are cheap and falling apart. Even the window weatherstripping can be EASILY removed with a fingernail! Honda has dropped the ball and forgotten from whence they’ve come. I think I will be replacing it with a Hyundai very soon.

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  • Scott

    A lot of this just isn’t so. Regarding supply chain networks, Honda’s built in the US are inferior to Hondas built in Japan. They use American made parts on the cars built here which as anything built in America, are inferior. Japanese assembly lines just produce better cars. Better quality control, better parts, and of course, Japanese pride of workmanship. My 2007 Accord has less than 50000 miles, but already has absurd problems. Electrical, bushings, shutting off when I put in park. Unheard of 25 years ago with a Honda or Toyota. My 1995 Acura Integra GSR was bulletproof. 250,000 miles, and I replaced a radiator, struts, and a starter the whole time. This is my last Honda. I’m going to wait a couple of years and see how Hyundai do with high mileage and go from there. If not, then a Toyota, but not another Honda.

  • Deri Eskind

    Hi Tim, I believe that for the most part when a company get big, they start getting cloddish. Although this doesn’t happen all the time, it happen a lot. Honda has been a great company for a long time and they are apparently falling behing in the innovation territory. Fresh companies like Hyundai are comprised of fresh hungry exec’s that want the company to suceed. Once there, they may too fall victim to complacency as well. I have seen this across the board in many industries.

    When your not hungry anymore, you don’t hunt as much I suppose.


    • Tim

      I agree with you completely. Another case in point is Microsoft. During its growth phase under the leadership of Bill Gates, the price of the stock rose dramatically. However, as the company became a large behemoth, innovation languished, and Microsoft’s stock price hit a plateau, which it has been on for over a decade.

  • tom_truth

    The WSJ has never been known as being car guys. Toyota and Honda have been producing high quality cars for at least 30 years. Hyundai was a joke as recently as 15 years ago. Only after massive failure in the US, did Hyundai decide to follow the lead of Toyota and Hyundai and embark on an admirable effort to raise quality dramatically. However, Steve Jobs aside, quality should not be confused with mere design. Toyota and Honda cars routinely exceed 300,000 miles with only normal maintenance. Hyundai quality has only begun to approach Toyota and Honda in the past 5 years. Hyundai products with their visual design appeal fool those who are not car people. Compare, for example, the refinement in engineering that enable Honda and Toyota to beat all comparable Hyundai in gas mileage by a significant margin (even after Hyundais admitted cheating). I’d rather drive a boring well engineered car than a flashy one with mediocre engineering.

  • Shriram

    Hi Tim,

    Really liked your analysis.
    Being a Continuous Improvement engineer I experienced few things in my work place too, like

    1. Culture: Toyota and Honda had developed a culture which was good few years ago, but taking from Toyota’s own philosophy you have to improve everyday and your culture also have to change. Kia and hyundai were still looking for the better culture and understood the need of modern customers better in the process.

    2. The balance between need and desire: One creates another, when buyers have higher purchasing power their desire to have some features develops the demand in market or need but when purchasing power decreases your needs drives your desires. I think a company can sustain for foreseeable future if it can balances both of them. Market fluctuates and power shifts all the time. Toyota and Honda actually were doing that, nobody is going to look under the hood, you can have junk parts under the hood as long as it serves two basic purposes,
    1) The desire, having a good looking and finished car from outside 2) The need, it runs without stoppages for considerable time.