View Desktop

Struggling Honda showing signs of life

Published June 20, 2011


“Can it get any worse?” is more than likely a rhetorical question the good folks at Japan’s Honda’s HQ are trying to avoid asking themselves.

No doubt, the past few years of lacklustre North American product launches, what’s looking like a massive financial hit for the once-perennially-profitable automaker, plus the economic and natural catastrophes at home are making 2011 a year Honda wants to see in the books.

Yet, a glimmer of hope that Honda may finally be digging out of its hole with good old-fashioned product has come out of a recent Reuters report.

In discussing Honda’s recent woes, it noted that Honda has had to delay the launch of some new North America-bound new models, including a new Japanese-market Fit Shuttle — a compact station wagon based on our existing Fit hatchback.

Related: Honda profit to plunge more than 60 per cent

Related: Honda Fit as a fiddle on the highway

At least the Shuttle hybrid has been a hit in Japan. Apparently, Honda has 7,000 orders in hand for the new car over a five-week period ahead of the start of domestic sales this past Thursday, a “fraction” of the orders received by rival (and larger) Toyota’s Prius V hybrid wagon, due in Canada later this year.

Although Reuters doesn’t say, it’s expected that a hybrid version of the Shuttle will be sold here. Which is interesting. Despite people questioning the value proportion of expensive hybrids, even with gas prices historically high, automakers are pumping new models into the market like crazy. Ford recently announced that its version of the Mazda5 mini-minivan, the C-Max, would be hybrid or fully electric models only when it comes to North America.

Anyway, the news that Honda is considering a non-Honda USA-designed model is encouraging. The sooner the head office in Japan stops listening to their American counterparts, the brainiacs who came up with the sedan-only Civic, Ridgeline and bloated Accord sedan and Crosstour, and the entire Acura styling disaster, the better.

Now, in Japan, the Fit Shuttle hybrid starts at 2.03 million yen ($20,000), compared with 2.35 million yen ($30,000) for the five-seater version of the Prius V. But that’s mainly because it’s a lot smaller: subcompact versus mid-size.

So while I applaud Honda (if it really does bring over the Fit Shuttle), if the automaker really wants to move some metal over here, it should be considering its one-size-up Stream (left). Much like the Mazda5 is based on the compact Mazda3, the Stream is based on the Civic, and would certainly stop the “Where’s my Civic hatchback/Accord wagon?” whining from former Honda fans.

Do you like the idea of a slightly larger Fit hybrid?

If Honda does bring over the Fit Shuttle, should it be offered as a gas model as well?

Or do you think Honda is better off bringing over the larger Stream?

(Sources: Reuters, Honda)