The Honda Del Sol was canceled in 1997. There would be no replacement for the 1998 model year. Then in 1999, Honda launched the S2000 for the 2000 model year. It was a larger and pricier, full convertible. The S2000 was received well, but it did not have the attraction for people looking for a little, sporty, and inexpensive car that the Del Sol model offered. Honda missed it.
Honda’s Del Sol
In the United States, Honda launched the Civic Del Sol in 1992 as a 1993 model year vehicle. It was based on the Honda Civic chassis but had its own uniqueness. For example, the Del Sol was a two-seater with smaller proportions and a light-weight targa top. It was similar in design language to the departed Porsche 914 models, yet in a fuel-efficient modern package.
As a niche vehicle, the Del Sol would sell well the first year, moving a little over 25,000 units in 1993. Visually, however, it would not change much throughout its run. The front bumper would get a minor change that removed the high seated position of the fog lights from between the headlights. Otherwise, to tell one year of production from another visually is difficult. The name did change though, from Civic Del Sol to just, Del Sol.
In 1995 Honda updated the Civic chassis. But, the update did not carry over to the Del Sol. There were claims that the new Civic chassis was too long to support the structural rigidity needed to have a targa top version of the Del Sol. So, Honda would keep the Del Sol on the previous generation Civic chassis for its duration, eventually pulling the plug on the Del Sol when sales would drop to under 6,000 units in 1997.
Honda made a mistake. It already had a replacement planned with the Honda S2000. That was a nice, convertible, sports car. But, it did not have the smaller size and price point that made the sporty Del Sol so attractive to begin with. If structural rigidity with the next generation Civic chassis was the problem in moving forward, then given time, Honda engineers could have resolved that shortcoming for the Del Sol. That’s what engineers do, resolve design challenges. Instead, Honda went the route of letting the Del Sol languish on an old chassis until shutting down Del Sol production. That left Honda with no open-air alternative available in its lineup for over two years.
What Should Have Happened
It would have made more sense to strengthen the new, longer Civic chassis to allow for a revised Del Sol, and concurrently have the S2000 running as an Acura. That way, there would have been a small, sporty Honda, and a larger, more expensive sports car in the more upscale Acura lineup. Honda would have had both target demographics covered. The youth would have taken the revised Del Sol, while the older, more affluent crowd would have the S2000.
A side note, the NSX was a halo car of the Acura brand. But it was also the most expensive. It had a different demographic of consumers. So, having the S2000 under the Acura umbrella would have provided stepping stones for consumers to move up from one vehicle to another within the same brand without cannibalizing sales of either vehicle. That sort of move would also have created more precious brand loyalty.
This is a very opinionated piece. I have no way of knowing what Honda was thinking, or what financial hurdles they were facing when they made the decision to cancel the Del Sol. I just know that my heart was broken to see it go. Then, not having an alternative offered until years later, but that had a higher purchase price was almost insulting. That was a mistake, Honda. The Miata was offered by Mazda as a full convertible alternative. Yet, my young dreams of a targa equipped vehicle at a reasonable price point were dashed when the Del Sol departed.