TOKYO - Honda Motor Co. may follow Toyota Motor Corp. in building an assembly plant in Europe, but not any time soon, Honda executives say.
'We have to strengthen our U.K. operations first,' said Honda Executive Vice President Hiroyuki Yoshino at the company's annual New Year's reception. That means boosting annual production to 150,000 from about 110,000 now, which will require about two years, he said.
If Honda did build a plant in Europe, it might not produce a model currently in Honda's lineup, according to Hiroyuki Shimojima, Honda senior managing director in charge of worldwide automotive operations.
Shimojima said he would favor building a smaller version of the CR-V, aimed at a younger market.
'The Accord, Civic and CR-V are the three main pillar products for us worldwide,' he said. But European buyers might prefer something even smaller, more along the lines of the J-mover series of vehicles Honda showed at last October's Tokyo Motor Show.
He said it would not be a StepWGN, S-MX, or any of the other minivan variations that Honda has sold successfully in the Japanese market over the last year.
Honda originally thought those models would do well in Europe, since European makers also are experimenting with variations on the minivan concept. So Honda took a sampling of its Japanese models to Europe a year ago to test them in consumer clinics.
To European tastes, the Japanese models' boxy exteriors made the cars look like 'commercial vans,' Shimojima said.
'Once our U.K. base has matured,' by reaching 150,000 a year, he said, 'and once the Continent accepts our models, then we can consider moving to the Continent.'