"The slight change we made to the commercial simply reflects our desire to remove anything that would get in the way of our uplifting message," said company spokesman Steve Kinkade.
The commercial was a 30-second spot that opened with images of a picket line outside of the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit. From there, it went on to show more upbeat images that included shots of the new Honda Civic, the Detroit News reported Saturday.
The faces of the picketers and the name of the courthouse were obscured, the News said. But hours after a Detroit News article described the negative reaction of many in Detroit, the company confirmed it was removing the controversial images in the ad, the newspaper said.
"The original intent of the commercial obviously was not intended to represent Detroit or the challenges experienced by the city, its people or our industry," Kinkade said.
"They're using our pain for their pleasure to promote Japanese automobiles while we are suffering in part because of the decline of American automobiles from foreign automakers," protested the Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the National Action Network's Michigan chapter.
"It's absolutely a slap in the face to use that in a commercial to promote a (company) that basically has hurt Detroit," Williams said.
"It ran nationally for two weeks," Williams said. "Even if they don't want to admit it was about Detroit, it was another slight and they should definitely apologize."
University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor Mike Bernacchi said the ad was "a body punch to the lower region."
"Who would be happy seeing this message? My question is, 'Why it was made and what are the markets they hope to alienate?'" he said.