Long the purveyor of top-selling sedans including the Accord and Civic, Honda is rebranding itself as a truck company.
The automaker sells only one true truck in the U.S., the Ridgeline. And even then, many truck enthusiasts refuse to consider it a pickup because of its crossover-like unibody constructions and front-wheel drive architecture.
But Honda, and the Department of Transportation, uses a wider definition for a truck. Basically, it is any crossover, SUV or pickup with a high ride height and significant ground clearance.
That means Honda’s CR-V crossover, Pilot SUV and Odyssey minivan and Ridgeline are all considered light trucks. Such vehicles, and similar models from competitors, now account for 70 percent of U.S. new vehicle sales.
Trucks.com sat down with Steven Center, the sales chief at American Honda Motor Co. to learn about the automaker’s truck strategy. Here’s an edited version of that conversation.
Honda has always been known as a sedan company. What is its truck strategy?
Let me give you a bit of a history lesson. So in the 90s, we found that we lost the customers because of lack of market coverage. We had two sedans basically, the Civic and the Accord. So we created the CR-V. It was a way of retaining customers who did not want a sedan. We’re a part of that transition to trucks. So it’s a shift in that preference for the consumer, but it isn’t new. This has been going on for a long time. And over the years we’ve developed a full line of SUVs to serve that change in consumer preferences.
We have the HR-V now, our entry SUV. The CR-V is now our highest selling model and has had record sales this year. We have the Passport, which is our rugged version of an all-wheel= drive, larger SUV. And we have the Pilot, our three-row SUV and then we have the Ridgeline pickup truck. The Odyssey minivan also is technically a truck.
We have expanded our product line with the vehicles that folks want. But cars still matter. What we found is while consumer preference is changing more to the SUVs, we aren’t feeling that as much as the rest of the industry. People are still flocking to our sedans – the Civic and the Accord. That first car for an entry buyer tends to be sedans. People don’t seem to enter the market with a truck purchase.
How do you, how does Honda define truck?
While there is a technical definition, we look at packaging. Sedans tend to be two, four or five doors. The trucks are all five doors and have a higher cube volume. All of our models are unibody construction, and in many cases when we refer to a platform, it’s kind of the engine transmission combination. So it’s very easy for us to use those things over. The Fit and the HR-V share a lot of common architecture at that level, but the bodies and implementation are very different. It’s the same with CR-V and the Civic. It’s not like we’re going at some point from a front-wheel-drive configuration, unibody vehicle to a body-on- frame, V8 engine, rear-wheel-drive model.
Under the current definition, about 70 percent of new vehicle sales in the U.S. are light trucks. Where does the mix go from here?
It’s going to continue to shift. In fact, this year it’s shifting at an increasing rate, but there’s still a large demand for sedans. So I think at some point it’s just going to level off.
What do you say to people who say the Ridgeline is not a real truck?
We say it is. I think you have to look at the purpose for the vehicle. If you’re going to drop pianos in it from the sixth floor of a building, it isn’t that kind of vehicle. So I’d say it’s a light work truck, but it’s really a recreation truck. The original concept was to create a truck for Honda people. When you look at the configuration, it does things that an SUV can’t do. Our buyers are active, outdoorsy people, many of them Honda buyers. It’s a vehicle to carry some of your stuff around, whether it’s motorcycles or bicycles, or light-duty work equipment.