TOKYO -- Honda has failed to gain traction in the United States this year despite the market's gradual recovery. But Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito expects volume to outpace the industry average next year because of new product.
In an interview, Ito said sales of the Accord sedan, Honda's best-selling vehicle, were dented by this year's release of the redesigned Hyundai Sonata. The traditional rivalry between the Accord and the Toyota Camry has turned into a three-horse race with the Sonata, he said.
"To counter that, we have plans to make the Accord and Civic far more attractive," Ito, 57, said.
Accord sales are up 6 percent to 235,631 through September. Meanwhile, the Sonata soared 59 percent to 149,123 for the nine-month period.
Sales of the Honda and Acura brands rose only 3 percent through September, compared with the U.S. industry's 10 percent advance.
American Honda's market share fell to 10.6 percent, from 11.3 percent a year earlier.
"Our sales so far have been slightly below our initial expectations," Ito said. "But for next year we should be able to get sales growth above the market average."
The redesigned Honda Odyssey minivan, which went on sale this year, will lead the surge, Ito said. Demand for light trucks such as the Odyssey and CR-V small SUV is expected to grow faster than demand for cars, he said.
Honda is expected to launch a redesigned CR-V next year.
Some hybrid offerings, such as the Insight, have been lackluster.
But Ito said a new hybrid system for large vehicles, scheduled to go on sale in 2012, will give electric-gasoline drivetrains a bigger slice of Honda's global sales -- pushing hybrids to around 10 percent of global sales by 2015, from less than 5 percent last year.
In 2012, Honda will start selling vehicles equipped with its large-sized, two-motor hybrid system, as well as an electric vehicle. It also will overhaul its gasoline engine and transmission lineups. And in Europe it will introduce a small clean-diesel engine.
Ito declined to say which models will get the new hybrid system. But he said it is designed to go into vehicles now outfitted with V-6 engines.
Electrified powertrains will feature prominently in the Acura lineup, Ito said, reinforcing what he called the "smart premium" image to which the brand aspires.
Ito also said Honda may resort to importing vehicles to Japan as a means of offsetting the yen's surge in value against the dollar. The high yen slashes the value of overseas earnings and makes exporting from Japan less competitive.
"We have no definitive plans to do that, but we have imported completed full vehicles from outside Japan before," Ito said, citing the U.S.-built Accord wagon that was shipped to Japan in the mid-1990s and a Fit-based sedan that was imported from Thailand more recently.
"Depending on how the foreign exchange situation continues," Ito said, "it is possible that we import vehicles into Japan."