The Honda Urban SUV concept car is introduced at the 2013 North American… (AFP/Getty Images )
Honda Motor Co. showed off what it called an “urban SUV concept” vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday.
It is a small crossover-style auto pegged below Honda's successful CR-V sport utility. The company plans to build the vehicle at a plant that’s under construction in Mexico and to put it on sale in the U.S. next year. It is based on the same platform used for the Honda Fit subcompact that already sells in the U.S. and internationally.
“No one has had greater success with small cars than Honda,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales at American Honda Motor Co.
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He said Honda plans to market the “proper five-passenger” vehicle to a younger and less affluent demographic than the more expensive CR-V or its flagship Accord sedan. He said adults won’t have to squeeze into the back seats.
“It provides the capability to do something under the CR-V. A little more nimble, serving a little bit different market,” Mendel told The Times' Highway 1 blog.
“We talk about our customers being somewhat more affluent, somewhat more educated, somewhat more married. This is probably more the for the less affluent and maybe single,” Mendel said.
Honda did not provide fuel economy data, price information or other specs, such as whether the vehicle will be available in all-wheel-drive.
Measuring 169.3 inches long, the Urban SUV Concept is nine inches shorter than the Honda CR-V, making it the ideal size for navigating both crowded city streets and open mountain roads.
The Fit has sold well in the U.S. at times, but it is made in Japan and is sold globally which has left the American arm of Honda struggling to get a large supply of the cars. The new plant in Mexico opens in the spring of 2014 and is expected to allow Honda to increase Fit sales in the U.S. next year as well as launch the new SUV, Mendel said.
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Several manufacturers are exploring this new “subcompact SUV” segment, including Buick with its Encore, BMW with the X-1 and Nissan with the Juke, said Bill Visnic, an analyst at auto information company Edmunds.com.
“Honda’s execution will be key,” he said. “They will need an all-wheel-drive option and the interior has to be well-appointed rather than a bare-bones car.”
Automakers are plunging into the small SUV market to provide customers with vehicles that have cargo space and to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy standards.
“Even the Japanese who are relatively well positioned still need vehicles in their lineup that drive high MPG numbers,” Visnic said.
Nissan has had surprising success with its tiny Juke, he said.
Nissan sold more than 36,000 last year. “That’s a pretty good number for what was expected to be a niche model,” Visnic said.