Cars and Concepts

Honda takes second shot at U.S. pickup market with new Ridgeline

The Ridgeline comes in four-door configuration only, and can seat five adults while hiding cargo -- such as a set of golf clubs -- under the rear seat. Photo credit: REUTERS

DETROIT -- Looking to repeat the innovation of the original but not duplicate its offbeat styling, Honda revealed the all-new Ridgeline midsize pickup at the 2016 Detroit auto show.

The second-generation Ridgeline will go on sale this spring as a 2017 model and launches at a time when crossovers and light trucks are the hottest ticket in town, thanks mainly to low gasoline prices.

“We are bringing our unique technology and original thinking to the market in a new and challenging concept for a Honda pickup,” John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., said in a statement ahead of the truck’s reveal. “We think we’ve got a better idea.”

That better idea means using a refined unibody platform like a crossover SUV would, rather than the traditional body-on-frame setup of nearly every pickup -- midsize or full-size -- on the market today.

The Ridgeline shares a platform with Honda’s Odyssey minivan, Pilot crossover and Acura’s MDX crossover.

Looking a lot like the Pilot with a bed attached to it, the Ridgeline uses the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine as its cousins. Honda hasn’t released horsepower ratings for the Ridgeline, but they’re not expected to be much different from the Pilot’s 280 hp and 262 pounds-feet of torque.

The Ridgeline’s engine will be hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive will be standard while a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system similar to the Pilot’s will be optional.

Innovation

Like its predecessor, the 2017 Ridgeline plays up its innovation. The bed has what Honda bills as the only four-foot-wide flat space in its segment and a built-in audio system. The in-bed storage returns, as does the two-way tailgate.

The Ridgeline comes in four-door configuration only, and can seat five adults while hiding cargo -- such as a set of golf clubs -- under the rear seat.

Despite playing in the same field as GM’s midsize trucks -- which outpaced expectations in 2015 with 114,507 total sales -- the Ridgeline will likely attract a different buyer, according to Tom Libby, manager of industry analysis at IHS.

“I see this as being a separate animal from GM’s trucks,” Libby said. “The Ridgeline will pull from Asian intenders looking at Toyota’s Tacoma or Nissan’s Frontier. It’s a somewhat different cluster of audience than the domestics.”

Wider ranger

But like the GM midsize trucks, Honda should also have success pulling in buyers who walked into the showroom expecting to buy something else, but end up being swayed by the packaging and creature comforts of the truck.

The Ridgeline also widens Honda’s range of models, which is limited compared to many of its high-volume competitors.

“This is expanding the product portfolio,” Libby said. “They need to do that if they’re going to be a long-term competitor to the Nissans and Fords and Toyotas.”

When the original Ridgeline debuted in 2005, it was Honda’s first foray into the pickup market. Initial sales were strong, peaking at 50,193 in 2006 and it it even garnered Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award that same year.

But consumers couldn’t see past the wonky flying buttress profile of the Ridgeline’s bed to appreciate innovative features like in-bed storage or a tailgate that opened either down or off to the side.

By 2009 sales had plummeted to 16,464. Production of the first-generation model ended in 2014.

You can reach David Undercoffler at undercoffler@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/autonews_west

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