TOKYO -- A clean-sheet redesign of the Honda Accord just left the gates, but engineers are already planning its successor.
Development of Honda's next-generation flagship sedan, due in 2016 or 2017, likely will be led from Ohio instead of Japan. The car may get a downsized turbocharged engine for better fuel economy. And the gasoline-electric hybrid variant will be made in North America.
That is a preview of Honda Motor Co.'s thinking from Shoji Matsui, large project leader of the Accord's current redesign.
Matsui has led the Accord since 2009. A good English speaker and self-confessed Disneyland devotee, the jovial engineer was tapped for his expertise in developing cars for America.
He cut his teeth on earlier generations of the U.S.-spec Accord and most recently was chief engineer of the Odyssey minivan. His orders with that vehicle: Seamlessly transfer Odyssey lead development from Japan to Honda's American r&d center in Ohio.
With the ninth-generation Accord, which hit showrooms in September, Matsui overhauled the car with the American market in mind. The same strategy will apply for the 10th-generation Accord.
The Accord is already one of Honda's most Americanized cars. But the company's global tech center in Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo, still handles key engineering.
That will change with the next generation, Matsui says.
"Technologically speaking, Ohio is fully capable," Matsui told Automotive News. "As the future trend, it is for sure that the r&d is being transferred over there."
Honda has said that the Ohio tech center will lead development of the next-generation Civic. A spokeswoman says no decision has been made for the Accord.
But President Takanobu Ito, in an October interview, said he wants to give America top responsibility for the next Accord.
Honda also aims to build the hybrid version of the car in North America. That shift would require a beefed-up r&d operation and a new supply chain for specialty parts such as batteries.
Honda plans to make the plug-in and regular hybrid variants of the new Accord at the company's Sayama plant north of Tokyo, at least initially. The plug-in hits the United States next year.
But hybrid manufacturing should shift to the United States by 2015, within the Accord's current generation, Matsui said.
"We intend to produce them around the world within the current design of the vehicle," Matsui said. "It's not too far away. Right now in Ohio, they are looking into it and making studies."
The start of hybrid manufacturing would have to coincide with a Christmas or summer shutdown to allow for factory retooling, he said. That limits the window to twice a year.
For the next generation, made-in-USA hybrids should be routine. Matsui also expects some drivetrain tweaks next time around.
Boosting fuel economy was key in the recent redesign.
To increase efficiency, Honda considered using a downsized turbocharged engine. But Matsui's team scrapped the idea because it felt the turbocharger's delayed kick-in wasn't conducive to the smooth ride the team desired from a family sedan.
But Honda hasn't forgotten the idea.
"For the next-generation Accord, it will get a downsized turbo for better fuel efficiency," Matsui predicted, saying that turbo systems and control technologies are evolving quickly.
In the newest Accord, Matsui opted to improve fuel economy by using a continuously variable transmission.
One problem: CVTs typically deliver slower driving response than automatic transmissions. But Ito wanted the CVT to deliver better torque than an automatic at low RPMs.
Matsui said the solution was to keep the CVT for fuel efficiency and add a direct-injection engine to boost torque.