DETROIT -- In Japan, there is a belief that in certain years, no matter what people do, they are just plagued with bad luck. For Honda Motor CEO Takanobu Ito, 2011 was that year.
Between the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and flooding in Thailand, Honda was never able to properly manufacture vehicles in a consistent manner. Its supplier network, especially Tier 2 and 3 suppliers, were in a shambles.
So on New Year's Day, Ito went to the Nikko Shrine in Tochigi, near Honda's R&D center, to have all his "bad omens taken away."
He already feels more confident about the future.
Ito predicts that "2012 will be a recovery," with Honda sales in the U.S. market growing nearly 25 percent.
Honda predicts that the U.S. market will reach 13.5 million units.
With the launch of the redesigned CR-V and Accord, Honda brand sales will grow to 1.25 million units, from 1.024 million in 2011.
The Acura brand, thanks to a redesigned RDX and a new ILX sedan, will grow from 123,000 sales to 180,000, said American Honda CEO Tetsuo Iwamura.
That would represent a 24.7 percent sales gain in one year. American Honda sales fell 7 percent in 2011. Iwamura said many industry observers mistook the shortages of Honda vehicles due to the natural disasters as meaning Honda had lost its edge.
"2012 is really a year where we show how Honda is competitive in the marketplace," Iwamura said. "[Our] North America [manufacturing] has fully recovered, and production is 100 percent or more since Oct 29."
Iwamura noted that some dealer inventories still remain low, a situation that should be rectified by the end of the first quarter.
"By the end of March, our inventory will be normalized, but [right now], sales-wise, we can sell at full speed," Iwamura said.
Honda recently added a second shift at its Greensburg, Ind., assembly plant that manufactures the Civic, generating another 100,000 units of annual capacity.
At Honda's Marysville, Ohio, plant, line 1 was reduced to a single shift in 2009 but resumed two shifts late last year.
The plant's second production line has continued to operate on two shifts.
Longer term, Honda's $800 million plant in Jalisco, Mexico, will crank out 200,000 subcompact cars from the Fit/Insight platform, starting in 2014.
Globally, Ito expects Honda sales to return to its historical high level of 3.6 million units in 2012. Because Honda calculates global sales on a fiscal year ending in March, 2011 figures are not yet available.