Honda Bets on Fun With Mini Sportscar as Japan Drivers Cut Costs

Honda Motor Co., which expects half of Japan sales this year to be minicars, will unveil its first mini sportscar since 1996 amid booming demand for more fuel-efficient, cheaper vehicles in Japan.

The S660 concept mini sportscar will be introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show next month and begin selling next year, Honda said in a statement. The two-seater will be a convertible, Ryo Sugiura, its exterior designer, told reporters.

The S660 will be one of the six minicars Honda plans to introduce by 2015 to challenge Toyota Motor Corp. subsidiary Daihatsu Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Corp., the leaders in a category that accounts for about 40 percent of new-car sales in Japan. Minicar sales are projected to rise this year in Japan even as total industry demand shrinks after the end of government incentives, according to researcher IHS Automotive.

“The best point about minicars is their low cost,” Sugiura said, declining to disclose the planned S660 price. “This car will mainly be for sportscar hobbyists.”

Called “Kei” cars in Japan, minicars are those with engines smaller than 0.66 liters and are taxed at a lower rate.

Tokyo-based Honda had sold an open-top mini sportscar, named Beat, from 1991 to 1996 in Japan. The car was priced at

1.39 million ($14,000) and total deliveries reached 33,682 units.

NSX Hybrid

Daihatsu also sold a mini sportscar, the Copen, from 2002 to 2012, with accumulated deliveries of about 60,000 units. The production of the model ended June last year, as the carmaker plans to introduce a new model next year.

Honda, which introduced its N-Box minicar line in 2011, almost doubled its market share in the category to 18.4 percent in 2012 from a year earlier.

Its goal to make half its sales minicars would propel Honda past Daihatsu, which saw its market share fall to 33 percent in 2012 from 36 percent a year earlier. Suzuki accounted for less than 30 percent of minicar sales in the year ended March for the first time since at least 2007.

Honda will also premier an NSX sportscar with a hybrid engine and a new N-series mini wagon at the Tokyo Motor Show scheduled to run from Nov. 20 to Dec. 1 in the Japanese capital. The show opens to the public on Nov. 23.

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