TOKYO - Excellent engineering has been a hallmark of Honda Motor Co., part of its core corporate culture.
In contrast, Honda's designs don't usually win critical acclaim. In the U.S. market Honda's styling is often seen as conservative or even dull.
But that is changing.
North American buyers have seen sporadic hints of Honda's design flair, from the original NSX to the intuitive feel of Honda's cockpits to the nifty rear seats in the Odyssey minivan that fold into the floor.
Honda has cranked out a string of hits in Japan such as the StepWGN minivan and the Fit subcompact, boosting its market share, often at the expense of market-leader Toyota Motor Corp. In each case, it is the vehicle's styling that attracts buyers, not its engine.
Honda has lured customers with a concept-driven design strategy.
"We're emphasizing the concept (for a vehicle) so much," said Yoshio Ui, Honda's senior chief engineer, who oversaw designs of hot models such as the Odyssey, StepWGN and Fit. Honda's design philosophy aims "to put the concept and styling (of a vehicle) together," he said.