Honda Australia's future looks set to be more about transport and less about dreams
Honda, once recognised as a maker of sporty cars, is facing a future of selling nothing more than mainstream transport as its local line-up steadily shrinks.
Over the past five years, the Japanese maker's 'hero' models have been gradually whittled away and according to Honda Australia managing director Toshio Iwamoto (pictured), there is nothing on the short-term horizon that might add some "spice" to the lineup.
The Prelude coupe was axed back in 2002, followed by the NSX in 2004. Last year saw the final deliveries of Integra coupes to Australia and although the small two-seater S2000 remains on sale for the moment, it is believed that the current car will not be replaced.
The new supercar NSX replacement that was shown in concept form at this year's Detroit motor show (also pictured) will not be available for Australia, as it will be left-hand drive only. This is also the case with Honda's new premium/large MDX SUV, which has now also dropped from the local sales lists.
"For a couple of years, we have to live on bread-and-butter models," Iwamoto told CarPoint at this week's launch of the new CR-V.
However, despite the reduction in models that leaves just Jazz, Civic sedan, Accord and Accord Euro, Odyssey, Legend, S2000 (for the moment) and the new CR-V in the lineup, Iwamoto says Honda is looking to increase its Australian sales by over 50 per cent in the next four years.
Last year's total sales of 54,202 units was a Honda record for Australia and an increase of just over 15 per cent on the 2005 figure, but by 2010 Honda expects to be selling 80,000 cars a year locally.
And this increase is expected without any major new model introductions. There will be, however, major model replacements with the next generation Accord and Jazz due on sale here in 2008, and potentially some diesel model additions -- though not until at least 2009 when the second-generation Honda diesel engines are available mated to automatic transmissions.
The only other potential new vehicle in the pipeline for Australia is a new small hybrid model that will be purpose-built along the lines of Toyota's Prius rather than simply dropping a hybrid drivetrain into an existing product. This car is due on sale in Japan in 2008.
Iwamoto acknowledged that the addition of a Civic hatch would help substantially in achieving Honda's local 2010 target but as it is presently built in the UK only, pricing and production capacity issues mean this is not an option.
Other Honda sources have suggested there may be a possibility that the next generation Civic, due about 2010 will include a hatch version built in Thailand or Japan. This is not a certainty, however, as Australia's requirements alone would not be enough to substantiate the investment.
In the meantime, Honda Australia is still desperately trying to get the Civic Type-R hot hatch from the UK to provide some sort of sports image. Even if it does get the green light, it will be available in limited numbers only.
Any other sports/performance models are completely off the agenda as most (including the NSX replacement) will be badged exclusively under Honda's upmarket and sporty brand Acura. Iwamoto says the company would not consider introducing the premium brand here unless it was selling in excess of 100,000 Hondas annually.
And there is little chance of Acuras being sold here with Honda badges either -- the Accord Euro being the sole exception. Honda in Japan is working to separate the two brands in a similar manner as Toyota has done with its main brand and Lexus.