The next-generation Honda Civic will arrive later than expected due to new U.S. corporate average fuel economy regulations, a top American Honda Motor Co. Inc. official says.

“Two-and-a-half years ago, we made the call to reevaluate (the design goals) on the next Civic” as regulators debated pending CAFE and carbon-dioxide emissions requirements, Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel tells Ward's during a media backgrounder for the new CR-Z hybrid coupe.

The move means the ninth-generation Civic will arrive a few months beyond its usual 5-year product cycle in early 2011. The current Civic debuted in fall 2005.

“It was either (delay) or blindly go in and do what you were going to do anyway and see how it plays out in light of a completely different circumstance — which would have been silly.”

As one of Honda's top sellers, along with the Accord, the Civic will shoulder a hefty portion of the burden under the new CAFE regulations.

Beginning in 2011 with '12-model vehicles, OEMs must move toward a U.S. CAFE of 34.1 mpg (6.9 L/100 km) by 2016. Each year, federal targets increase about 4% between 2011 and 2016. Add in regulations on CO2, and U.S. fleet fuel-economy requirements rise to 35.5 mpg (6.6 L/100 km) in 2016.

However, CAFE varies for each OEM based on the attributes of its sales mix and physical footprint of each model in its lineup. Honda's fleet average target for 2016 is 37.4 mpg (6.3 L/100 km).

Mendel won't divulge Honda's fuel-economy target for the new Civic but “if you do the math, 50% of our volume comes from Civic and Accord. They've got to pull an awful lot of weight.

Fuel economy of the '10 Civic varies by trim line. But the bread-and-butter non-hybrid or Si models average 29 mpg (8.1 L/100 km). The Civic Hybrid hits 42 mpg (5.6 L/100 km).

Meanwhile, Honda still is evaluating the future of its Element cross/utility vehicle.

Approaching the eighth year of its product cycle, the Element needs to be replaced by a model that will draw the same cult-like following, Mendel says.