Honda’s Hit: $16,000 Coupe Sells Out After First Production Run

S660 Roadster
The Honda Motor Co. S660 roadster at its unveiling in Tokyo on March 30. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Honda Motor Co. has sold out all 8,600 of its new roadsters slated for production this year and is fully booked through June. The only problem: four in five buyers of the $16,000 sports car are over 40.

That is a much older demographic than other models in the lineup and many of these older customers are repeat customers buying the coupe as a second car, according to Misato Fukushima, a company spokeswoman. It’s also a contrast to the last sports car Honda introduced in 1999, the S2000. Back then, only one in five buyers were over 40 years of age.

While the older repeat buyers show Honda has a strong following of longtime fans, a failure to attract younger customers will hurt the prospects for the carmaker in its home market. The problem isn’t confined to Honda. Stagnating annual incomes and an efficient public transportation system means many younger people in Japan don’t see a need to own a car. The number of driver license holders under the age of 40 has fallen 46 percent over the last 13 years.

“It will be a big challenge for Honda to lure younger buyers,” said Yoshiaki Kawano, an analyst at IHS Automotive. “If you compare the demographic feature and average income with 20 years ago, I would say the motivation for young people to buy such a car could be quite limited.”

Honda expected the S660 to be popular among older customers but believes the proportion of young buyers will rise gradually, said Fukushima.

Maverick Image

With the S660, Honda is betting that its risk-taking -- the car is designed by a prodigy in his 20s with no engineering experience -- will revive its image as a maverick among the major carmakers, a producer of interesting cars rather than just nondescript mass-market compact models.

Demand for the S660 has been brisk and Honda plans to restart taking orders from October.

For Hitoshi Arai, 66, driving his brand-new S660, top down, through the countryside two to three times a month feels like a breath of fresh air, literally. The retired bank employee’s two adult sons, both in their 30s, haven’t shared in the rides.

“The elder one has shown some interest but the younger one just has no interest in cars at all,” said Arai, who also owns a Honda sport utility vehicle. “He would rather ride his bicycle.”

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