The Top Eco-Brands

Automotive: Honda

Carmaker Has Head Start in Green Field With Upcoming Emission-Free Sedan

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American Honda Motor Co. snared the Union of Concerned Scientists' biennial award for America's Greenest Automaker in 2007 -- for the fourth time in a row. Nice run, but unlike many automakers dabbling in greener product, Honda is already moving on to phase two, with cars such as its FCX Clarity hydrogen-fuel-cell, emission-free sedan.

Leading the way
  • Eco-ads must be 'organic to the brand'
  • Civic Tour goes green with Hybrid giveaway
  • 90% or greater design recyclability.
"Our commitment is more for the long term," says Barbara Ponce, manager-corporate advertising at Honda. Her job is to communicate Honda's corporate philosophy for its cars, motorcycles and power equipment, and that doesn't include bragging about every green trophy that's added to Honda's shelf.

"Environmental advertising is not a box to check. It's organic to the brand," Ms. Ponce says, adding that Honda's green messaging is a reflection of its corporate philosophy and DNA.

Part of this strategic approach may come from the fact that Honda is no eco-newbie. The auto marketer has for decades devoted research and development to advanced technologies, first resulting in early-adopter vehicles such as the Insight hybrid and leading up to Honda's latest green-inspired model, the FCX Clarity, available this summer via lease in California.

The compressed-natural-gas-powered Civic GX, billed as "the cleanest mass-produced sedan on the planet," was ranked the greenest vehicle for the fifth straight year in 2008 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The GX joined the gasoline Civic, Fit and Civic Hybrid among the council's 12 most environmentally conscious vehicles available.

In the last fiscal year, 13 of the company's 14 big North American manufacturing plants won third-party environmental-management-standard certification.

Honda looks for the most compelling environmental stories to tell in advertising, Ms. Ponce says. Last fall, Honda launched a new corporate site,, and loaded it with more information than the predecessor site about its technology, the FCX Clarity, robot Asimo, solar efforts and an upcoming fuel-efficient, eight-seat jet.

"Consumers appreciate it when a company shares information with them and walks the walk," Ms. Ponce says.

Honda, which landed on top in CNW Marketing Research's consumer survey on good citizenship last fall as a corporation with environmentally friendly products and clean plants, also offers the gasoline-sipping Fit and Civic small cars, which help the brand tout its long-term fuel-economy commitment in ads from RPA, Santa Monica, Calif. "Reverse your thinking" is the tag for the current Civic Hybrid, which first arrived in 2002.

Honda promoted Keep America Beautiful's Great American Cleanup through May 31. The automaker paired its car dealers with thousands of volunteers to beautify streets, roads and highways and awarded grants to the three organizations that collected the most litter and recruited the most helpers.

Breathing room
The carmaker also says every one of its 2007 Honda and Acura vehicles designed and assembled in North America has achieved 90% or greater design recyclability. The company has committed to introduce more efficient gasoline, gas-electric hybrid and clean-diesel-powertrain technologies in the next several years.

Honda has the breathing room to concentrate on green issues, even in the industry's worst sales year in a decade. Honda Division's new-vehicle sales in the U.S. rose 3% through April vs. a year ago to 437,102 units vs. a year ago. American Honda's upscale Acura brand, however, saw sales fall by 14% to 50,540 units.

Honda loyalists and even "diehard Detroit buyers" have a relatively high perception of the Honda brand, says Art Spinella, president of CNW, and being recognized for environmental innovation builds stability in Honda's base of people who intend to buy its vehicles.

When it comes to communications, he says, Honda "appears as a humble manufacturer of competent products, and it does what it does well without patting itself on the back."
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