Honda Prays for End to Natural Disasters, U.S. Rebound Led by New Models

Honda Motor Co. (7267) says replenished vehicle inventory and new Honda and Acura models planned for the next 24 months will spur a U.S. sales rebound next year after natural disasters dashed its 2011 goals.

Honda’s loss of some North American output in October and November due to parts shortages caused by floods in Thailand led to it being the only large automaker to post a U.S. sales decline last month as total sales jumped 14 percent. That came after six months of declines resulting from reduced auto inventory triggered by Japan’s March earthquake and tsunami.

“I’m going to the shrine to pray to avoid any more such disasters from Mother Nature,” Tetsuo Iwamura, Honda’s top North American executive, said in an interview on Dec. 2 in Las Vegas. “Next year, even starting this month, we’ll recover.”

Japan’s third-largest automaker counts on the U.S. for the largest portion of its global sales. Tight inventory and competition from Ford Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) and Kia Motors Corp. (000270) and others cut Tokyo-based Honda’s U.S. sales 5.3 percent through November.

While Honda’s market share has fallen to 9 percent from 10.5 percent so far in 2011, combined share for South Korean affiliates Hyundai and Kia rose to 9 percent from 7.8 percent a year ago.

“It is a year to forget, and then push the reset button,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with researcher IHS Automotive. “We’re now seeing heavy replacement demand, so there is a lot of sales opportunity out there.”

IHS Automotive estimates U.S. sales of new cars and trucks will rise to about 13.3 million units in 2012, from about 12.7 million this year, she said.

‘Outrageous’ Competition

“The competition is outrageous and it’s coming from every part of the market,” Lindland said. “Every year we say this is an incredibly competitive market, but this year we mean it.”

Honda’s immediate goal is to boost production of its new Civic compact and CR-V compact sport-utility vehicle that goes on sale this month, Iwamura said. The company starts December with about a 40-day supply of vehicles, he said.

“Unfortunately, our competitors didn’t show us any mercy,” Iwamura said. “They took as much market share from us as they could. That’s the reality of the market. You have to fight back.”

In 2012, the company releases a revamped Accord, Honda’s top-selling U.S. nameplate, and other models Iwamura declined to identify. “Fortunately, we are going to have lots more models in the next 24 months,” he said.

New Engines, Hybrids

Vehicles coming out next year will also begin powered by new four- and six-cylinder engines and transmissions Honda unveiled last week at the Tokyo Motor Show, claiming they will lead the industry in fuel efficiency.

The company also will add new hybrid models from next year that will boost its reputation for fuel-efficiency and advanced technology, he said.

“New models with good technology, yet very value-oriented pricing for the sake of competitiveness,” said Iwamura, 60. “That is our key for a successful year in 2012 and onwards.”

Sales of the new Civic, released this year, will continue to increase and haven’t really been hurt by some critical reviews, he said.

“In November, Civic was the number one selling compact vehicle,” Iwamura said. “Customers still believe in the Civic.”

The 2012 Civic failed to receive the “recommended” status from Consumer Reports magazine. The revamped model “ranks near the bottom of its category,” David Champion, senior director of the magazine’s auto test center, said in an Aug. 1 e-mailed statement.

Honda’s U.S. headquarters are based in Torrance, California. The company’s American depositary receipts rose 0.5 percent to $31.63 at the close in New York.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Las Vegas at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net

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