DETROIT -- Japan's Honda Motor Co. on Monday said it expects U.S. sales to rise 7.6 percent to 1.5 million vehicles in 2005, putting it on track to achieve record sales in its key market for a 10th straight year.
The new target, announced during a press conference at the North American International Auto Show here, exceeds its most recent estimate of less than a month ago when it targeted sales of 1.45 million units in the world's biggest car market.
In addition to the fully remodeled Civic, its best-selling car, Japan's number three automaker is set to increase U.S. sales of light trucks through the new Ridgeline model, its first foray into the popular pickup truck segment.
Honda gave no official sales target or pricing for the model, but executives said it was aiming for initial annual sales of 60,000 units.
"That should bring the ratio of our light trucks vehicles to about 44 percent this year from 40 percent in 2004," Koichi Kondo, president of American Honda Motor Co. and head of the Japanese auto maker's North American operations, told Reuters in an interview at the Detroit show.
The truck will be priced between $27,000 and $32,000, Kondo added.
The light trucks segment grew to 54 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales in 2004 as more sedan drivers switched to bigger vehicles and is crucial to Honda's efforts to grab a bigger slice of the U.S. market.
Kondo said the biggest task for Honda America now was to bring the new production line at its Alabama plant up to full speed -- expected by autumn, 2005 -- to offset initial investments and improve profitability for its light trucks.
"Profitability in the segment should be at par with margins for our passenger cars around the end of 2006 or early 2007," Kondo said.
In 2004, Honda's U.S. sales rose 3.0 percent to 1.394 million vehicles for a market share of 8.2 percent despite its low spending on sales incentives. Kondo said he expected Honda's incentives outlay to stay at the low level of around $500 per unit this year.