Honda is looking to rebuild its British and wider European operations with “five new models” after years of collapsing sales in western Europe.
In the medium term, Honda will launch a new and much less controversially styled Civic range. The new Civics — previewed by a concept at the New York show in April and expected in 2017 — will herald a fresh range of downsized turbocharged petrol engines to replace Honda’s trademark high-revving naturally aspirated petrol motors.
Honda’s Swindon plant will become the global HQ for production of the new Civic hatch. The firm’s willingness to invest in European-focused product is underlined by the fact that out of the 26 million engines the company builds each year, just 100,000 are the 1.6-litre diesel, which is currently only sold in Europe.
Last year, Honda sold about 4.5m vehicles across the globe. However, just 150,000 of those found homes in Europe. More remarkably, Honda bosses estimate that, of the 150,000 European Honda sales, as many as 60,000 units are sold in UK.
Phil Webb, the new head of Honda UK’s cars division, said the arrival of the HR-V compact crossover and the all-new Jazz will be backed up by the facelifted Civic and CR-V crossover (including the new twin-turbo diesel version) in the push to regrow the brand.
Philip Crossman, Honda UK’s managing director, said the new Civic Type R is also vital in getting consumers to re-engage with Honda. The model will have a limited two-year production run and is now also scheduled to be exported to Japan. The arrival of the NSX hybrid supercar next year will also help Honda’s visibility with new car buyers.
Although Honda sees the UK as having great potential for increased sales, Webb said the French and German markets will be a “much bigger challenge” for the brand.
Webb said: “We think that we can raise UK sales to 80,000 per year. That would be an organic and natural growth for us.” He went on to say that he thinks there is in the UK “great pent-up demand for the new Jazz”, which remains highly popular with its loyal customer base.
Webb also said Honda is behind in the adoption of PCP sales at its UK dealers. PCPs that its dealers have executed so far have had a buyer retention rate of up to 70%. He added that keeping buyers within the brand is something car makers are keen to see.
What happened to Honda?
Honda’s fall from grace — or failure to gain traction — in Europe is one of the car industry’s biggest mysteries.
The firm has a long history of building highly reliable machinery and it has been putting a lot of effort into its European models since the space-age Civic was unveiled nearly a decade ago.
But in the first eight months of this year, Honda sales in western Europe continued to dip, dropping just over 7% to 73,400 cars. In 1990 Honda had just 1.2% of the EU market. It peaked at 2% in 2007 but slid to just over 1% last year.
There’s no justice. The CR-V sells in huge numbers in the US and the Jazz is arguably the cleverest, most practical supermini available. In the wake of the diesel scandal, perhaps its world-leading expertise in petrol engines will finally deliver a boost.
Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below: