Publicity remains a cornerstone of automotive marketing

Why make such a limited edition to set a lap time? Publicity. Photo: Honda Australia.
Why make such a limited edition to set a lap time? Publicity. Photo: Honda Australia.

In recent years, manufacturers Honda and Renault have been upping the ante in the pursuit of being able to say they sell the quickest front-wheel drive production car available on the market today.

Both of them have been producing super-hot versions of their hot hatches in very limited numbers, and setting lap times with them on world-famous road racing circuits.

While there's no official venue for attempting this sort of achievement, and many "records" appear to be timed by the manufacturer themselves, Honda and Renault use tracks like Nurburgring's Nordschleife in Germany (as many manufacturers do for similar bragging rights), as well as Suzuka Circuit in Japan, which is owned by a Honda subsidiary company.

Renault has been turning up on Honda's turf to take the FWD production car lap time at Suzuka, then in February Honda claimed it back, but kept it quiet until July.

The most hotted-up version of the Civic - and Honda used a Euro-spec example - streaked around its home venue in a very impressive 2 minutes 23.993 seconds, as measured by Honda. This lap undercut the Renault Megane's time by more than 1.4 seconds, which was already an impressive feat since Renault had beaten its own time before that by an amazing three seconds.

Public stouches like this raise a few questions, depending on who you are.

For motoring writers that questions was, what other types of cars did it beat?

The answer appeared to be the Ferrari F40. I thought that a slightly odd choice given the track changed a little in 2002, tyres have come a long way in 30 years, and the writers all copied each other even though some of the other performance icons it beat by bigger margins actually make the Honda's time look more incredible for a showroom model family car with back doors and a back seat.

Only 1000 examples of Honda's Limited Edition Type R, all painted Phoenix Yellow, will be made and sent around the world to various countries, including both left- and right-hand drive. Only 20 of these Civics have been made for the Australian market.

Given that this level of on-track performance is possible without making a supercar, another question you might ask is why do they only offer these pumped-up examples in such small numbers?

Honda made no mention of homologating its high-performance parts for an FIA touring car series. Besides, that reason for producing some factory-made family hot rods basically died in the '90s along with Group A.

So if it's not for racing, then it seems an awfully big investment in development for legal road use simply to sell what is, contextually, a handful of vehicles.

The answer also helps explain why they set themselves the "Type R Challenge", claiming fastest production FWD lap times across Europe in other FK8-generation Civics.

When it comes to increasing sales of a product or the awareness of a brand, there are multiple P words in the marketing mix.

The list has grown from the original few essentials, which were price, product, promotion and place. Publicity was next, then packaging, positioning, people and even politics were added as options, depending on what it is you're actually marketing.

For this track day exercise at Suzuka, it was all about the publicity such a feat would garner from motoring writers the world over, hungry for an attention-grabbing headline, and a Civic beating a supercar is a tasty one.

To call these lap times a stunt is technically correct, but somewhat disrespectful.

So what effect does it have beyond these 1000 cars, all of which were pre-sold before the lap time was revealed anyway?

There are at least a couple of layers to this. Firstly, the positive perception of clever engineering displayed by the new Limited Edition and earlier Type Rs not only rubs off on all Civics, but also the Honda brand itself.

The other layer, since back in February there were 400 expressions of interest registered for Australia's 20 examples, is that of exclusivity, which itself generates publicity and a positive perception of a brand.

Sam Hollier is an ACM journalist and a motoring fanatic who builds cars in his shed in his spare time.