Honda Motor makes a U-turn to catch U.S. truck, SUV trend

by SpeedLux
Images of 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Honda Motor is redesigning the appearance and the marketing for its sport utility vehicles and trucks to appeal to U.S. costumers who are paying premiums for competing automakers’ vehicles that provide a more rugged, off-road adventure image.

Since the 1970s, Honda has been well known in the United States with understated, well-engineered, and highly effective cars such as the Honda Civic and Accord. Honda’s SUVs, minivans, and its Ridgeline pickup truck are constructed on the smooth-handling chassis of those sedans.

But during the last five years, U.S. consumers have shifted toward larger vehicles with all-wheel drive, beefed-up suspensions, big grilles, and body armor designed for plowing over desert paths and mountain trails – though most such vehicles never leave the pavement.

Ford Motor’s new Bronco sport utility and its F-150 Raptor model are chasing this trend, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is expanding its Jeep brand to harvest more profit from a sector it dominates.

Over 70% of vehicles sold in the United States in 2019 were midsize trucks and SUVs, while 53% of Hondas sold fit those categories. Honda does not sell a large pickup that rivals with the Ford F-150, and is therefore shut out of one of the U.S. market’s most profitable sectors.

“We are not on trend with the rest of the industry,” said Jay Joseph, Honda’s U.S. automobile marketing vice president, during a conference call.

Honda on Thursday revealed a new look for its midsize Ridgeline pickup. A new advertising campaign releasing on Friday shows the Ridgeline hauling dirt bikes and charging down unpaved roads in the Rocky Mountains. Former professional wrestler John Cena gives the ads a “tough guy” voice.

Honda is hoping the new approach will increase Ridgeline sales to 50,000 trucks a year from about 33,000 in the last year, Joseph said.

The automaker has forecast a 68% drop in worldwide operating profit for the current fiscal year that ends March 31, mainly because of the sales lost to the coronavirus crisis.

Honda’s Passport midsized SUV will be among the next models to get the off-road makeover, Joseph said. The five-seat Passport is outsold almost seven to one in the United States by the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

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