TSUNOMIYA, Japan -- An important yet unsung piece of Honda's comeback plan is a redoubled focus on small cars, really small cars -- the ultramini kei segment peculiar to Japan.
The 0.66-liter econoboxes -- limited by law to lengths under 133.8 inches and widths less than 58.3 inches -- account for an amazing 40 percent of light-vehicle sales in Japan.
Kei cars, Japanese for "light" cars, were long the domain of Suzuki and Daihatsu. Now Honda wants to be a power player.
It has developed a new line of minicars from scratch and launched the first model, the N Box, last December. While the box-shaped tall wagon will be sold only in Japan, Honda is using it as a laboratory to perfect low-cost, small-car manufacturing techniques it can apply throughout its lineup.
"Everyone involved in the project hopes our technology is to be utilized in larger cars some day," Yasuaki Asaki, the N Box chief engineer, said in a recent interview. "Material costs will increase in the future as will the need for better mileage. So there is a need for more cabin space using less raw material."