Honda delivered one of the big surprises of the NY Auto Show this week with the debut of a Civic concept vehicle and the unexpected news that it would launch an all-new version of the compact car line later this year.
The new model will reach showrooms barely four years after the launch of the last Civic generation, something “probably close” to a record for a manufacturer coming up with a “clean sheet of paper” version of a major product line, said Honda’s John Mendel during a small media roundtable following the Civic Concept unveiling.
But that reflects the increasingly competitive realities of today’s auto industry and Honda’s determination to maintain the appeal of the Civic, long one of the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. It has also been one of the top two models for young buyers, boasted Mendel, along with the bigger Honda Civic.
Honda’s other big surprise was news that it would bring the Civic Type R, a European-made “hot hatchback,” to the U.S. for the first time. The maker had seemingly ruled that out barely a month ago, when the Type R was first unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show.
“I just signed off on this,” Mendel said, adding that specific details and timing are uncertain. The Type R likely won’t reach the U.S. for another year or so, after the debut of the new Civic sedan, coupe and SI models.
As for sales volumes, “A lot of that will depend on pricing,” he cautioned, that, in turn, depending on exchange rates because the new Civic Type R will be imported from a plant in Great Britain. “But I would hope we could see a couple thousand a month.”
(Honda drops triple surprise in debut of all-new Civic. For more, Click Here.)
Honda’s other big news was the decision that it will debut a new turbocharged version of its Earth Dreams engine family in the new Civic. But that’s just one of a wide range of new powertrains coming from Honda. Mendel confirmed that the Japanese maker is working on an all-new “dedicated” model that will feature a plug-in hybrid powertrain. It is due to market late next year.
(Click Here for details about the Type R, Honda hatch coming to U.S.)
Plug-ins are expected to flood the market by the end of the decade as manufacturers struggle to meet upcoming fuel economy and emissions standards. Upscale rival Mercedes-Benz, for example, is planning to add 10 PHEVs to its line-up by 2017.
During the wide-ranging conversation, Mendel was asked about the unexpectedly slow industry sales in March. While he didn’t see a cause for alarm, he did warn that the situation could change if the overall U.S. automotive recovery begins to level off during the rest of this year.
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One of the big concerns of industry analysts is the possibility that manufacturers will fight to keep demand high by reviving the hefty incentives and other steps that cost the industry so much money leading into the recent great recession.
If sales do slow, warned Mendel, “You’ll see some bloody battles out there.”