Honda hopes to get momentum back with new CR-V
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A lot has changed since the Honda CR-V crossover went on sale in 1997 facing just a few rivals. The entry-level crossover market has exploded to become the industry's fastest growing segment while attracting more than 20 entrants.
Honda Motor Co. -- aiming to stay ahead of the pack -- is reloading with a fourth-generation CR-V that aims to build on the model's styling, packaging, fuel economy and features.
The redesigned 2012 CR-V crossover was introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show Wednesday and is scheduled to go on sale Dec. 15.
In a year that has produced setback after setback for Honda, to say the new CR-V faces an incredible sales burden would not be an understatement.
It has been the top-selling crossover since 2007 but has been surpassed by the Ford Escape this year, partly because of inventory shortages after the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The Honda brand's overall U.S. sales -- dented by depleted stockpiles -- have dropped 5 percent so far this year, though CR-V demand has jumped 11 percent in a market that has advanced 10 percent.
Photo credit: HONDA
The CR-V -- sold in more than 160 countries and boasting all-time sales of nearly 5 million -- has become a bona fide franchise and profit generator for Honda.
It is one of four core models the brand is introducing over a 24-month period. An all-new Odyssey minivan went on sale a year ago, followed by a new Civic compact last spring. Next fall, a new Accord will go on sale.
The four models account for nearly 80 percent of the Honda brand's U.S. sales this year.
But after the lukewarm reception the redesigned Civic has received -- sales of the compact are down about 15 percent this year -- Honda is counting on the new CR-V to rebuild momentum.
"We have a lot of good product coming starting with the new CR-V," said Mike Accavitti, Honda's new head of U.S. marketing. "The pipeline is chock full of mojo."
Photo credit: HONDA
Honda plans to continue selling more than 200,000 CR-Vs a year in the U.S. market. The automaker is confident enough in the revamped crossover that it plans to build the vehicle at three North American plants for the first time — in East Liberty, Ohio; Alliston, Ontario; and El Salto, Jalisco, in Mexico.
It will face stiff competition from the Escape, Toyota RAV-4, Chevrolet Equinox, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe.
The redesigned 2013 Escape, which also debuted at the L.A. Auto Show today, will go on sale next year.
The entry-level crossover market has ballooned and is expected to grow 35 percent between 2010 and 2015. It will rival in size the full-sized pickup market, analysts say.
More standard features
For the 2012 CR-V, Honda will offer more standard equipment -- rear seats that fold flat at a single touch, steering wheel-mounted controls, full center console – and, for the first time, an optional rear entertainment system, to appeal to more buyers.
Honda says the rear entertainment system will be affordably priced at $700 to $800.
Honda also is making more technology features standard: USB audio, Bluetooth connectivity, a 5-inch color rearview monitor, Pandora radio and SMS text messaging.
"Honda isn't going to rock the boat with a controversial design," said Dave Sullivan, head of product analysis at AutoPacific Inc. "They are fixing what was wrong -- like the folding rear seat."
While Honda moved the Odyssey minivan upscale last year, offering a premium package that topped $40,000, the CR-V will remain a value proposition, in part because the compact crossover market includes premium offerings such as the BMW X-3 and Acura RD-X.
The price will remain between $21,000 and $30,000, Honda says.
Honda says it will feature segment-leading fuel economy of 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway in four-wheel drive mode and improved fuel economy of 23/31 mpg in two-wheel drive mode.
"For us, the heart of the market is the basic buyer or young family willing to spend $25,000 for a well-equipped, safe and functional crossover," said Sage Marie, manager of truck product planning for Honda.
The Equinox, with a new connected color radio for 2012, and the Escape will offer more technology and connected capability than the CR-V, while appealing to the same Gen Y market that Honda is after, AutoPacific's Sullivan said.
He said: "The CR-V will make Hondaphiles happy but doesn't offer a convincing reason to buy one over the competition."
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