Honda (1): mini vehicles and HV sales increase in Japan

New powertrains will permit Honda to lead in fuel economy within three years



 The following is an outline of Honda Motor Co.'s (1) plans to enhance its HV (Hybrid Vehicle) and mini vehicle families and increase their sales in the Japanese market and (2) product and powertrain development plans for the near future. (A separate report will cover Honda's activities outside Japan.)

 (Note) Vehicles with an overall length up to 3.4 meters, width up to 1.48 meters, and height up to 2 meters that are powered by engines with total displacement less than 660cc are classified as "mini vehicles" under the Japanese vehicle regulations, and are eligible for preferential taxation. Because of the affordable prices and maintenance costs, mini vehicles today account for nearly one third of all automobile sales in Japan. This report collectively refers to small, midsize and large-size vehicles other than the mini vehicles as non-mini vehicles.

 (1) Honda's plan to enhance its Japanese market includes increasing the number of HV models in Japan to six and the company predicts that HVs will account for 50% of all non-mini vehicles in March 2012 (monthly data) and more afterwards.

 In December 2011, Honda launched N BOX, a tall wagon type and the first model of the new mini vehicle N Series. In anticipation of steady growth of the mini vehicle market, Honda has moved the production site of mini vehicles from Yachiyo Industry, a consolidated subsidiary, to Honda's Suzuka Works and is taking steps to sell 280,000 units in FY2012, equal to 40% of 700,000 units, Honda's sales goal of all vehicles in Japan. The company further plans to set up structure for steady sales of 300,000 units.

 The N BOX, powered by a new-generation gasoline engine and CVT, is built by a whole-new manufacturing technology that has achieved a 10% reduction in the weight of the white body. Honda will roll out this method to other plants in Japan and other countries for all vehicles including non-mini vehicles.

 (2) In November 2011, Honda announced a revolutionary next-generation technology "Earth Dreams Technology" under its product and powertrain development plan. The company aims to introduce top-of-industry fuel efficiency in every vehicle class within three years by replacing its gasoline/diesel engines and CVT and introducing new electric vehicle systems.

 Honda's plan with new electric vehicles includes Fit EV launches in Japan and the U.S. in the summer of 2012, and models fitted with 2-motor HV/PHV systems in 2012 to 2013 in addition to those fitted with the existing 1-motor IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) system. Honda exhibited the NSX Concept at the 2012 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January 2012 (to be sold under the Acura brand and fitted with a newly-developed hybrid all-wheel-drive system). Honda has aspired to give a new try to building automobiles with personality and has decided to resume development of the successor model to NSX as the symbol of such aspiration.

 At the same time, Honda announced North America will be the development and production site of the Acura brand and the company will refresh all existing models within three years.

Related Reports:  Tokyo Motor Show 2011 (Japanese OEMs (1): December 2011)
Tokyo Motor Show 2011 (Japanese OEMs (2): December 2011)
Honda (Financial results for fiscal year 2010: May 2011)

Honda predicts HVs will account for 50% of all non-mini vehicle sales in March 2012 (monthly data), and even more afterwards

 Honda currently has six hybrid models in the Japanese market, including the "Freed HV" and "Freed Spike HV," Japan's first HV in its minivan and tall wagon families within the small-medium category.

 Honda sold a total of 172,909 non-mini vehicles in the Japanese market from April to September 2011, including 61,569 hybrid cars which accounted for 35.6% of total sales. About a half of the non-mini vehicle sales are expected to be HVs in March 2012 (monthly quantity) and Honda estimates the HV sales will top 150,000 units in the Japanese market in FY2011 (compared to 103,000 units in FY2010).

Honda: Enhancing HV lineup

Fit Shuttle HV June 2011  Fit Shuttle is a Fit-based wagon type car with an overall length of 4410mm, 510mm longer than Fit. It shares 70% of its parts with Fit. The gasoline-fueled model has a 1500cc engine.
 A hybrid fitted with a 1300cc i-VTEC engine and IMA system is available (has the same 10-15 mode fuel efficiency as Fit HV at 30km/L).

(Note) Fit Shuttle is sold in Japan exclusively and is set for the series sales of 4,000 units a month. Released for sale on June 16 and won over 12,000 pre-orders in two weeks of which 86% were for HV.

Freed HV October
 Freed (Fit-based minivan) series was face lifted and HV version was made available. The first hybrid among Japan's small minivans weighs 200 kg more than the sedan type plus 80 kg from the IMA system. According to Honda, the car reflects the best give-and-take between minivan's driving comfort and the hybrid system's fuel performance.
 The hybrid model, fitted with a 1500cc gasoline engine and the IMA system, has fuel efficiency of 21.6km/L in JC08 mode and 24.0km/L in 10-15 mode, best among the small minivans and tall wagons (nearly 30% improvement compared to gasoline-fueled cars). The VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) is standard on all models including gasoline models.
Freed Spike HV October
 Freed Spike is a two-row five-seat car deriving from Freed. The hybrid has the same fuel efficiency of 21.6km/L in JC08 mode and 24.0km/L in 10-15 mode as the Freed HV.

(Note) The new Freed Series was released for sale on October 28 and won over 20,000 pre-orders in two weeks of which 63% were for HV. The Freed series is aimed at monthly sales of 10,000 units.

with a new 1.5L
engine available)
 Insight hybrid model was refreshed after which the fuel efficiency of the car fitted with the conventional 1300cc engine improved by 1km/L from 30km/L to 31km/K (10-15 mode), best among Honda's hybrid vehicles. "Insight Exclusive" fitted with a 1500cc engine and the IMA system (10-15 mode fuel efficiency of 26.5km/L) was made available. Honda positions "Insight Exclusive" as a higher ranking model with finer interior and external qualities.

Source: Honda press releases 2011.6.16/2011.10.27
(Note) Honda has six hybrid models being sold in Japan as of January 2012 including the four models shown above and Fit HV and CR-Z.


New N Series mini vehicles to be manufactured at Suzuka Works

 In December 2011, Honda launched tall wagon type models N BOX and N BOX Custom, the first models in its new mini vehicle N Series. The company plans to launch the N Concept 3 with rear seats having a greater degree of freedom (exhibited at the Tokyo Motor Show) in the spring of 2012, N Concept 4 (a sedan resembling the old time hit known as N360) in the fall, and N Sports (tentative title) in 2013. The "N" derives from the N360 released in the 1960s and, according to Honda, it also represents its resolution to once again enhance its mini vehicles.

 Honda will move the site of its mini vehicle production from Yachiyo Industry to Suzuka Works, and set up its network of dealerships that mainly sell mini vehicles and compact cars under the policy of rebuilding its mini vehicle business.

N BOX "Custom G"
N BOX "Custom G" exhibited at Tokyo Motor Show and released for sale in December 2011


New mini vehicle N BOX launched in December 2011

 In December 2011, Honda released for sale a new mini vehicle N BOX built on a newly-developed platform. Honda's original center-tank layout was adopted. The crushable auxiliary equipment and a swing mechanism that pushes them into open space at the time of collision contributed to reducing the engine compartment in size. As a result, the cabin length was increased to 2180mm, one of the largest among all mini vehicles in its class. Honda refers to it as a mini-minivan. Honda aims to sell 12,000 units a month in the Japanese market.
 The powertrain combines a new, compact engine with a CVT integrating a newly-developed torque converter. It also features an idle-stop (start-stop) system that has been used on existing hybrid vehicles. As a result, the car has achieved a top-class JC08 mode fuel efficiency of 22.2km/L (FWD) among the tall wagons. The VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) is standard on all models.

(Note) The N BOX was released for sale on Friday, December 16, 2011 and has won 27,000 pre-orders for about a month (as of January 10, 2012), approximately 2.3 times more than Honda's targeted monthly sale of 12,000 units.

mini vehicles to be manufactured at Suzuka Works
 Honda's mini vehicles have been manufactured at a consolidated subsidiary company Yachiyo Industry. In March 2008, Honda announced a decision to build a new mini vehicle plant in Yachiyo Industry's premises but the decision was called off in July 2010 and Honda announced a new decision to manufacture mini vehicles at its own plant as the key model.
 Starting with N BOX, Honda's Suzuka Works (located in Suzuka City, Mie Pref.) will be the site for manufacturing mini vehicles and their engines. Production of the mini vehicles currently produced by Yachiyo Industry will be moved to Suzuka Works in phases at the time of a new model launch and redesign. Production of trucks and vans that use different chassis will remain with Yachiyo Industry.

Source: Honda press release 2011.11.30
(Note) N BOX is a tall type model designed for spaciousness that rivals Daihatsu Tanto and other models. Although its fuel efficiency is not as high as that of Daihatsu e:S, Honda reportedly will enhance the N Series and launch a new model, in 2013 at the earliest, with JC08 fuel efficiency of over 30km/L.

New dealership roll-out devoted primarily to mini vehicles and compact cars
 Since Honda placed all its sales channels under "Honda Cars" in 2006, the company has been making efforts to organize general dealerships handling all from upper-end cars to mini vehicles. But now, Honda is organizing new dealerships throughout the country that will mainly sell mini vehicles and compact models. These dealerships will showcase a wide variety of mini vehicles and compact cars and will be easy for women to visit in particular. An experimental dealership opened in Kumamoto Prefecture in January 2011. Since then, Honda Cars Osaka opened nine new dealerships according to Honda's dealership organization policy.

Source: Nihon Keizai Newspaper 2011.9.5/2011.9.9


10% weight reduction from N BOX white body to be attempted with other models

 In the course of developing N BOX, Honda reviewed every stage of production and adopted advanced technologies that included a high-efficiency welded frame using an inner frame, and an ultra-strong stiffener using tailored blank and hot stamping of molded trim. As a result, Honda achieved a 10% weight reduction from the N BOX white body. One of the two production lines at Suzuka Works was modified to use the new method. The new production method will be used in other plants in Japan and overseas with mini vehicles first and eventually with all models. It is said more than 10% weight reduction is possible with non-mini vehicles that weigh more than mini vehicles.

 The "high-efficiency joint frame using an inner frame" method is outlined below.

"High-efficiency joint frame using an inner frame" method

 In conventional methods, roof subassembly and side panel subassembly are prepared before they are joined with the floor frame. This required bolting and reinforcement with gussets (reinforcement plates).
 In the new method, the roof and side panel inner frame are joined with the floor first to assemble a "framework" after which the side and roof outer panels are fitted together. The bolting process used to join frames is replaced by spot welding to make more rigid joints. This leads to a weight reduction since bolts and reinforcements are no longer required.

Source: Honda press release 2011.11.30


Doubling mini vehicle sales to 280,000 units in FY2012 and to 40% of sales in Japan

 Honda sold 154,000 mini vehicles in FY2010, nearly half the quantity sold in FY2006 (283,000 units). Starting with N BOX, Honda is determined to strengthen its mini vehicle business and plans to double mini vehicle sales from FY2011 to 280,000 units in FY2012. Honda will set up structure toward a steady sale of 300,000 units.

 Honda plans to increase sales of mini vehicles and non-mini vehicles in Japan from 610,000 units in FY2010 to 700,000 units in FY2012. Most of the increase will come from mini vehicles which will account for 40% of total quantity.

Honda's retail sales in Japan

FY2006 FY2007 FY2008 FY2009 FY2010 Apr.-Nov.
Non-mini vehicle
mini vehicle
Ratio of mini vehicle
Total 691,529 640,058 580,146 662,270 608,480 421,154 316,638

Source: Honda's monthly release of production, sales and export
(Note) The ratio of mini vehicles to total sales in Japan (non-mini vehicles + mini vehicles) was 34.8% in 2010 and 36.1% in 2011 (calculated from Japan Automobile Dealers Association data).

 Honda has production capacity of 1.3 million vehicles in Japan and plans to maintain annual production of 1 million units. The company produced approximately 910,000 units in FY2010 of which 310,000 units (34.0% of production) were exported and 610,000 units sold in Japan.

 Honda is under the pressure of the yen's hovering appreciation and impending need to further localize its development and production operations in emerging markets. This makes it hard for Honda to increase export even if production is normalized. Honda thus faces an urgent need to increase sales in the mini vehicle market that represents one third of the market in Japan if the company is to maintain its adequate production quantity in Japan.

Honda's production and export

FY2006 FY2007 FY2008 FY2009 FY2010 Apr.-Nov.
Production in Japan 1,348,085 1,296,682 1,148,361 901,775 912,307 654,385 443,688
Production overseas 2,354,307 2,658,801 2,425,936 2,402,755 2,664,055 1,776,026 1,325,933
Production worldwide 3,702,392 3,955,483 3,574,297 3,304,530 3,576,362 2,430,411 1,769,621
Export from Japan 645,203 695,678 573,561 230,010 310,254 213,512 141,013
Export/production in Japan 47.9% 53.7% 49.9% 25.5% 34.0% 32.6% 31.8%

Source: Honda's monthly release of production, sales and export


Announces next-generation powertrain technology "Earth Dreams Technology"

 In November 2011, Honda announced revolutionary next-generation "Earth Dreams Technology" covering six items including gasoline/diesel engines, CVT, and various types of electric drive technologies. Honda is set to satisfy both of the driving performance and fuel efficiency to the highest levels and achieve top fuel efficiency in all categories within three years.

 Honda will have a total of seven gasoline engines ranging from 3-cylinder 660cc to V6 3.5-liter displacements. The 660cc engine will be used on the new mini vehicle N BOX and the inline 4-cylinder 2.4-liter engine will be used on the next Accord for the US to be launched in the fall of 2012. Honda plans to use all types of engines on at least a model by 2013.

 As for electric vehicles, Fit EV will be launched in Japan and the US in the summer of 2012 which, Honda claims, will mark the best "electric efficiency" (the amount of electricity required to run a specific distance). A new hybrid system for mid- to large-size vehicles using two motors for driving and power generation has been newly developed. A PHV fitted with this system will be launched in 2012 and a HV version will go on sale in 2013. Honda has also developed a new electric four-wheel drive system.

Announces revolutionary next-generation technology "Earth Dreams Technology"

1 Gasoline Engine  The evolution of the original VTEC technology, together with improved thermal efficiency and reduced friction, has led to high output and fuel efficiency. By using this technology, Honda aims to achieve top fuel efficiency in every vehicle category within three years.
 A wide range of engine classes, from 660cc to 1.3-liter, 1.5-liter, 1.8-liter, 2.0-liter, 2.4-liter and 3.5-liter, will be available. They will all feature fuel-efficiency-increasing technologies, although slightly different by the piston displacement, such as the DOHC, direct injection, Atkinson cycle, VTC on intake and exhaust valves and massive EGR.
(Notes) 1. VTEC stands for Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control system and switches the intake valve lift between two stages (low and high speeds). VTC stands for Variable Timing Control and continuously varies the valve opening and closing timings. These two systems are referred to collectively as "i-VTEC" in Honda's jargon.
2. The announcement says the 3.5-liter class engine will employ a new valve train mechanism (details are not provided).
2 Diesel Engine  The existing 2.2-liter engine was downsized to 1.6-liter which became the world's lightest diesel engine in its class. The engine adopts a compact, highly efficient turbocharger.
3 CVT  Three CVT models for mini, compact and mid-size vehicle classes have been newly developed using a reinforced belt to realize a wide ratio range. A high-precision hydraulic control system is also introduced.
 An electric oil pump is used to build a highly responsive idle stop (start-stop) system. This has contributed to significantly improving fuel efficiency and the ease of use.
 The ratio range was increased on the compact and mid-size class CVT to substantially improve transmission efficiency. This has led to a fuel efficiency improvement of 5% and 10% compared to the conventional CVT and the 5-speed AT of the same class, respectively.
4 Two-motor
HV system
 Honda has developed a two-motor hybrid system in addition to the single-motor IMA hybrid system. The new system will be used on a mid-size vehicle (said to be the next Accord model for the US market) in 2013 in combination with a 2000cc engine.
 The system has marked the highest efficiency ever (according to Honda) by appropriately switching among three driving modes: an "EV driving mode" on urban streets, "hybrid driving mode" for driving on electricity generated by the engine, and "engine-connected driving mode" for high-speed cruising.
(PHV)  Special lithium-ion battery and a charger have been developed that can be fitted on PHV as well. Honda will launch the Accord for the US market in 2012 with a PHV system based on the two-motor hybrid system.
5 Electric SH-AWD  A new hybrid system for large-sized vehicles has been developed. The front wheels are driven by the V6 3.5-liter engine and a 7-speed DCT (Dual clutch transmission) with a built-in motor. The rear wheels are driven by an electric AWD system with two right and left independent motors. Hybrid vehicles using this system will be launched in 2013.
 The electric SH-AWD system realizes acceleration performance equivalent to V8 engines and fuel efficiency equal to or higher than inline 4-cylinder engines.
6 Compact, high
efficiency electric
powertrain for EVs
 The powertrain comprises a high efficiency motor, low friction gearbox and electric servo brake system which, according to Honda, realizes the highest electric efficiency in the world, meeting the required AC consumption rate of 29kWh/100 miles (U.S. standard) (measurement by Honda).
 Fit HV will be launched in Japan and the US in the summer of 2012. The car is powered by Toshiba's 20kWh lithium-ion battery and has a cruising range of 123 miles (LA-4 mode) or 210km (JC08 mode).

(Note) The electric servo brake system on Fit EV decelerates the vehicle using the regenerative brake alone without the mechanical brake so long as the regeneration capacity of the electric motor is not exceeded. According to Honda, this system increases the amount of energy regeneration and electric power efficiency thereby increasing the cruising range. The system switches to the mechanical brake instantly when it is needed.
Source: Honda's press release 2011.11.30, Automotive News 2011.12.5


NSX Concept exhibited at the 2012 North American International Auto Show

 Honda exhibited three Acura brand models, the ILX concept, a second-generation RDX and the NSX successor concept, at the North American International Auto Show held in January 2012. All three models are developed and will be produced in the United States.

 Honda considers North America as its site of development and production for the Acura brand, and will remake all models within the next three years. Honda will enhance the brand in North America and China where the brand is marketed, and roll out similar marketing to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Ukraine, etc. in 2013 and later.

 Honda's exhibit at the 2012 NAIAS included the next Accord model being launched in the fall of 2012.

NSX Concept exhibited at 2012 North American International Auto Show

ILX Concept Spring 2012  A Civic-based entry model of the Acura brand for young people, featuring three different powertrains; the 4-cylinder 2.0-liter, 2.4-liter, and Acura's first hybrid with a 1.5-liter engine and the IMA system. Manufactured in Indiana, US, marking Honda's first production of hybrid vehicles outside Japan.
Spring 2012  A prototype of the second-generation Acura RDX (North American model). The powertrain was changed from the 4-cylinder 2.3-liter turbocharged engine to the V6 3.5-liter gasoline engine to produce the stateliness and driving performance that belongs to a luxury CUV. Will be produced in Ohio, US, where the current model is being produced.
Acura NSX
(to be launched
in the US)
 Inheriting the name and DNA of the flagship model of Honda's sport car, the Acura NSX is a next-generation super sport car precisely reflecting customer needs and the state-of-the-art technology. Developed in the United States and produced in Ohio, US. The car is 4330mm long, 1895mm wide and 1160mm high.
 Adopts the newly-developed Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling All Wheel Drive). Unlike the electric SH-AWD announced in November, the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD has a mid-mounted V6 direct-injection engine and DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) with a built-in high efficiency motor to drive the rear wheels. The front wheels are driven by two independent motors.
Next Accord
(North American
Autumn 2012  The concept model of the next Accord coupe (North American version). According to Honda, this represents the refreshing of Accord following the Civic and the CR-V, to enhance the Honda brand featuring equally high environmental and fuel efficiencies. A PHV based on a two-motor hybrid is to be available in 2012, a two-motor hybrid in 2013.

Source: Honda press releases 2011.12.12/2012.1.10

 Among vehicles other than HV and mini vehicles, Honda released CR-V for sale in December 2011 and will launch the next Fit in 2014.

Product launch other than HV and mini vehicles 

CR-V December 2011
(in Japan and
the US)
 The new, fourth-generation CR-V was launched in December 2011. The previous model (Japanese version) has two types, the 2.4-liter FWD and the 4WD. The new model is available in either the 2.0-liter FWD or the 2.4-liter 4WD type. The 2.0-liter model is fitted with the CVT with a torque converter and has achieved the top of the class JC08 mode fuel efficiency of 14.4km/L. The sales goal is set to 1,500 units a month.
 CR-V is Honda's main model that sold over five million units in the world from 1995 to the end of September 2011. The model's lineup in the United States was replaced with the new model in December (fuel efficiency of the FWD increased from 21 to 23 mpg city/28 to 31 mpg highway, respectively). The new model will be launched in other markets as well.
Next Fit 2014  Development is under way simultaneously at the six development and procurement sites in Japan, China, Asia Pacific, North America, South America and Europe. Key components such as the vehicle's framework and engine will be shared and detail specifications and parts suppliers will be decided to best match local conditions.

Source: Honda press release 2011.11.28


Operating loss in automobile business registered for April-September in FY2011

 Honda reported a net profit of 534 billion yen in its consolidated statement for FY2010, bringing the company up to the top position among the listed companies in Japan, whether automotive or non-automotive.

 But Honda's global unit sales in April-September in FY2011 fell 26.6% from 1.8 million units in the same period a year earlier to 1.32 million units due to the influence of the great earthquake in March. This led to the revenues of 3,600.4 billion yen (down 22.0%) and operating profits of 75 billion yen (down 81.1%). The company's automobile business ended the quarter with an operating loss of 105.3 billion yen. Saying it was difficult to forecast the financial results for the full FY2011 due to the influence of the flood in Thailand which is likely to last through the end of this fiscal year, Honda withdrew the forecast announced on August 1 as part of the statement for the April-June of FY2011. The company reported "undecided" under the full-year forecast including the unit sales.

Honda's global unit sales

(thousand vehicles)
FY2006 FY2007 FY2008 FY2009 FY2010 Apr.-Sep.
Japan 672 615 556 646 582 322 222
North America 1,788 1,850 1,496 1,297 1,458 738 494
Europe 324 391 350 249 198 101 75
Asia 620 755 793 950 1,008 505 425
Others 248 314 322 250 266 131 103
Global 3,652 3,925 3,517 3,392 3,512 1,797 1,319
Source: Honda's Consolidated Financial Results
(Notes) 1. Global unit sales represent the total of the assembled vehicles and production parts supplied to the equity method affiliated by Honda and its consolidated companies.
2. The table above shows the results of wholesale and the unit sales in Japan do not agree with the retail unit sales shown earlier.


Honda's Consolidated Results

(in million yen)
FY2006 FY2007 FY2008 FY2009 FY2010 Apr.-Sep.
Net sales 11,087,140 12,002,834 10,011,241 8,579,174 8,936,867 4,613,374 3,600,488
Operating income
thereof automobile
Income before income tax 792,868 895,841 161,734 336,198 630,548 422,353 105,854
Net income 592,322 600,039 137,005 268,400 534,088 408,416 92,226
Capital expenditures
R&D costs
Honda's average rate for USD
Honda's average rate for EUR
JPY 117
JPY 151
JPY 114
JPY 162
JPY 101
JPY 142
JPY 93
JPY 130
JPY 86
JPY 114
JPY 89
JPY 115
JPY 79
JPY 113
Source: Honda's Consolidated Financial Results
(Notes) 1. The main factors causing the operating loss in April-September of FY2011 include the decline in unit sales due to the post-disaster production cutback (184.9 billion yen), followed by the impact of production cutback on costs and the increase in raw material price (117.1 billion yen) and an exchange loss (52.2 billion yen).
2. Among Honda's business segments, the automobile business ended the April-September 2011 with an operating loss of 105.4 billion yen. In contrast, the motorcycle business and financial service business reported an operating profit of 83.8 billion yen and 96.4 billion yen, respectively. As a whole, Honda ended the term with a consolidated operating profit of 75 billion yen.
3. Honda was forced to suspend production in Thailand on October 4, 2011 due to a flood. Drainage operation ended on November 28 and cleaning and other post-flood work is under way. The plant is expected to resume production in April 2012.

<Automotive Industry Portal MarkLines>