NEW YORK - With its new, yet-to-be-named minivan, Honda hopes to plug a critical leak in its North American lineup.
'We haven't had a vehicle for the Civic or the Accord owner to step up to,' Dick Colliver, Honda Division executive vice president, said at the New York International Automobile Show last week.
'The No. 1 and No. 2 trade-in on a Chrysler minivan are the Accord and Civic. And there are several hundred thousand minivan owners who also have a Honda in the garage.'
The new full-sized minivan, which will be built in Alliston, Ontario, is considerably bigger than the imported Odyssey it replaces and is the biggest Honda ever produced.
The new model is powered by a V-6 engine; the Odyssey has a 4-cylinder. The new model also has more of today's hot-selling features, such as dual sliding doors on the entry level LX version.
The only other trim level, the upscale EX version, will have dual power sliding doors. They can be remotely opened or closed, one at a time, or both at once.
A couple of other gee-whiz features:
1. The third row of seats folds flat into the floor. That gives a flush storage space in the back, but it also means that the spare tire rides in an unusual position, closer to the middle of the floor, instead of near the rear. The spare is accessible from inside the van.
2. The two captain's chairs that serve as the second row of seats also can be shoved side by side to create a bench seat.
Colliver insisted that the name of the new van was not final. He also said Honda has not decided whether to keep selling the Odyssey, or whether to give that name to the new model, if the Odyssey is retired.
Even though the Odyssey has never been a huge seller, its buyers are 'some of our most loyal Honda customers,' Colliver said.
The price of the new model is also to be announced, but Colliver said the top of the range will be around $25,000 to $26,000, plus destination. The 1998 Odyssey ranges from $24,205 to $26,195 suggested retail. Those 1998 prices include $395 destination charge.
Colliver said Honda expects to sell about 60,000 units of the new minivan in its first model year, beginning this fall. By comparison, Honda sold 20,333 Odysseys in 1997, down almost 25 percent from 1996.