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Honda's cool Civic hatch not scratched!

Sleek: Five-door Civic may join sedan here next year.

The eye-catching, futuristic Civic hatchback is back on Honda Australia’s agenda

30 Jan 2006

IT’S on again, sort of.

Honda’s Civic hatchback will probably be released in Australia after all.

But the futuristically styled five-door will not arrive before the end of next year at the earliest, more than 18 months after the UH Civic sedan goes on sale later on in February.

Australian small car buyers may even have to wait until the mid-cycle facelift (2008) before seeing the Civic Euro hatchback.

This Civic – unlike any other since the early 1990s – has created a buzz in motoring circles over the past few months because of the way it looks inside and out.

Currently only built at Honda’s Swindon plant in England, the Euro hatchback is a version of the UH Civic sedan, although the two actually share very few interchangeable parts.

It was created primarily for European consumption, where hatchbacks are far more popular than the three-box two-door coupe and sedan variants that Honda has devised specifically for North America and Asia.

The company envisaged these markets would prefer the latter versions anyway since consumers there have a preference for driving (or being chauffeured in) three-box cars.

But since the Civic hatchback’s unveiling in concept car form at the Geneva motor show last March, as well as its subsequent production-guise release at the Frankfurt show six months later, there has been demand for it from Honda outposts worldwide.

It appears that, to Honda’s surprise, Japan and the United States are particularly keen to get the hatchback after all.

GoAuto believes that, subsequently, Honda Motor is investigating a manufacturing site outside of Europe.

Thailand is a likely candidate, although the company refused to comment on the possibility of this.

"The European market is the priority right now," said Toshio Iwamoto, managing director and CEO of Honda Australia.

"But personally I would love to see it sold here," he revealed.

Mr Iwamoto says that key obstacles are keeping the hatchback from coming here for the time being.

These include the high cost of sourcing a car out of Britain, where labour forces up the price and exchange rates are not favourable for Australia.

Acquiring Australian Design Rules certification, which are broadly unique in the world and expensive and time-consuming to conduct, has been another stumbling block.

Nevertheless Honda is thought to be working flat-out at investigating getting around this.

"(But) If the car were introduced here today it would cost around $35,000," says Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley.

That’s almost $15,000 more than the opening salvos of the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Holden Astra.

However, according to Mr Iwamoto, style and image are going to factor more strongly in Honda vehicles bound for Australia for now on.

"We need cars with more of a European taste (as well as) sportier vehicles", he told GoAuto last week.

"We also need products that embody what Honda is all about – quality, environmental responsibility, engineering excellence, fun to drive," he added.

Currently the average age of the Civic is 49.

Further future variants of the Civic – including limited and sporty ‘hot-hatch’ editions, and even a replacement for the long-dead CR-X coupe/targa – are believed to be on the boil.

The latter may be the replacement for the fourth-generation Integra released in Australia in 2001.

A new, third-generation CR-V is also coming, spawned off the UH Civic platform, sometime within the next 12 months.

For now though Honda Australia is publicly playing down the hatchback’s importance for our market.

This attitude is understandable given that it has the job of selling a single-styled sedan to small-car consumers that historically prefer hatchbacks.

"Today we have to launch the Civic sedan, which is equally sensational (as the European hatchback) in its own way," Mr Smalley said.

The company must be heartened though by the performance of the Civic’s arch nemesis, the Mazda3 sedan, which regularly outsells its five-door hatchback counterpart two-to-one.

Nevertheless it is acutely aware that a fuller range of small cars – meaning a Civic hatchback – is vital Honda is to achieve its goal of snaring seven to ten percent of the total new-vehicle market here by 2010.

"If we can sell ‘X’ amount of Civic sedans in Australia in the next 12 months, then it seems logical that we can sell twice that many if the hatchback were available," Mr Smalley admits.

New models to double Honda's market share

HONDA Motor is embarking on a massive new-model assault in the next four years.

The fresh metal influx is designed to help increase Honda’s market share to at least seven percent in four years.

Furthermore, a big increase in the number of vehicles sourced out of Thailand – which enjoys a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Australia – will also be leveraged to Honda’s advantage.

In fact, according to Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley, by the end of the decade up to 75 per cent of all Honda vehicles sold here will be Thai-produced.

"We are aiming for seven to ten per cent of the Australian new-car market by 2010," Mr Smalley says.

Last year Honda sold 47,001 vehicles, a 28.8 per cent rise over the record 36,474 in 2004, resulting in a 4.8 per cent overall new-vehicle market share.

In a similarly sized market then, Honda’s expectations for 2010 would thus net it between 70,000 and 100,000 new vehicle sales annually.

Honda kicked off the year with last December’s facelift of its big-selling Accord Euro sedan.

And also following suit in the Accord range is a facelift for the ‘wide-body’ model built in Thailand in 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V6 guises.

Honda is remaining mum on when this updated Accord will arrive but a mid-year introduction is expected.

New cabin trim, a completely new rear-end treatment and minor bumper changes sum up the changes.

"Since this car’s price realignment (following the implementation of Australia’s FTA with Thailand from January 1 2005) sales have been very strong," Mr Smalley told GoAuto.

But before that the UH Civic sedan arrives.

On sale from February 23, the eighth generation of Honda’s perennial small-car combatant will be charged with doing to its class what the market-leading Accord has done to the prestige segment.

Also sourced from Thailand, the latest Civic should open with a considerable price advantage over its Japanese, South African and European sourced rivals.

However, the UH will be without a hatchback model for almost two years, as Honda Motor decides on another, cheaper manufacturing base. Obviously Thailand is in a good position to become one.

Currently the Civic hatchback is a Europe-only proposition, and is built in Southern England.

Also due this year is a completely redesigned Legend luxury sedan.

Sporting more style than the moribund current model – out since 1996 – and featuring a high-tech four-wheel drive system among other trick inclusions.

This fourth-generation Legend will become the most expensive Honda on sale now that the iconic NSX has disappeared temporarily.

Expect it to return by 2008, however, in mooted V10 all-wheel drive and possibly hybrid guise.

Once again Honda plans to move the supercar goal posts out (as the 1990 original did) with an NS-X espousing Ferrari-beating performance in an environmentally far-more responsible package.

Expect a world premiere of the production model at the Tokyo motor show in October 2007.

Next year will also reveal the third-generation CR-V.

As before, the Civic will donate much of its underpinnings to Honda’s light-SUV representative.

Details are sketchy but a more monobox-style wagon with cab-forward design and a far-roomier, Odyssey-style futuristic interior is likely if the new Civic hatchback and sedan trend is followed.

Will there also be an all-new Integra version coming from the latest Civic? One company insider confirmed to GoAuto that sporty is not dead at Honda, so a niche model borne from the Civic is expected.

Whether it be in another Integra like vehicle, a belated replacement for the CR-X/Del Sol Targa of the 1980s and 1990s respectively, or a combination involving a coupe-convertible style derivative, is unclear.

But perhaps the biggest contributor to Honda’s market share aspirations will come from the next-generation Jazz light car.

The current model is built in Japan, a big hit worldwide, and now getting on to five years old.

The Jazz MkII will probably also be manufactured in FTA-benefited Thailand.

This will significantly bring down the cost to a level where it can more easily compete against the Suzuki Swift and upcoming Mazda2 replacement – if not the South Korean Holden Barina and Hyundai Getz cheapies.

Currently the Jazz 1.3 begins at $17,390 with air-con, $2000 less than the similarly equipped 1.5.

However, Honda will not introduce the current Jazz-based (and Thai-built) Aria sedan to Australia, despite the imminent Toyota Yaris and Holden TK Barina sedans, as well as the expected price competitiveness its sourcing would bring to the light-car segment.

"There is no market for it," says Honda Australia managing director and CEO Toshio Iwamoto.

Honda may also have its European range of diesel engines available in Australia by the end of 2007.

Currently the company is evaluating an Accord Euro CDTi sedan, powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel unit. This engine also powers a version of the Civic Euro hatchback.

Mr Smalley is confident that the new Civic, Jazz and CR-V, along with the continuing acceptance of the Accord Euro, will continue to appeal to Australian consumers wary of spiralling petrol prices.

"Barring a downward shift in petrol prices, the large-car market is going to continue to shrink – and naturally people are going to want more fuel-efficient motor cars," Mr Smalley predicts.

"Providing customers with a choice is the way (forward).

"It’s about conquest sales as well as retaining current Honda customers," he adds.

What's coming from Honda:

UH Civic sedan - February 2006
Accord ‘wide-body’ facelift - third quarter 2006
Legend - late 2006
CR-V II - second half 2007
Civic Euro hatchback - late 2007
Jazz MkII - first half 2008
Integra replacement/new CR-X - 2008
NSX MkII - 2008

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