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Honda hunts for smaller SUV

Crossing over: Honda's popular HR-V (left) could soon have a sibling, but it is unlikely to be the emerging market BR-V (below).

Sub-compact SUV to sit below Honda HR-V under investigation

18 Mar 2016

HONDA is “investigating” whether it can source a sub-compact crossover to sit below the instantly popular HR-V in the SUV-loving Australian market.

While the HR-V is based on the same platform as the Jazz light car and plays in the small-SUV segment, its proportions are more similar to the fuller figured Nissan Qashqai, leaving room in the Honda line-up for a baby crossover.

In other markets within Asia-Pacific Honda sells the recently launched BR-V, based on the tiny Brio city hatch, but Honda Australia director Stephen Collins said it was unlikely that it would be introduced Down Under.

“I'm sure you know there is a BR-V which is a Brio-based SUV. It's primarily made for emerging markets, so at this stage it is not in our plans,” he said.

Mr Collins said he predicts that sub-compact SUVs, smaller that HR-V, will be the next hot sales segment in Australia.

“My personal view is I think that is the next segment which is going to take off. So it will be interesting to see who is in there and who is first and who is not.” Honda Australia product coordination manager Atsushi Takaoka said that BR-V was a challenge as its dimensions are too similar to the HR-V to be viable and added that a decision on a small crossover for developed markets had to come from Honda Motor company.

“Basically we are investigating it,” he said. “So we need to investigate more and more. But … there may be some possibility.” Honda's other SUV contender, the CR-V, has fallen down the mid-size SUV sales ladder in recent years and finished in sixth place last year with 8608 units shifted – an 11.4 per cent dip over 2014 – beaten by the Subaru Forester and Mitsubishi Outlander.

It is up by 5.5 per cent in the first two months of 2016 and is sits in eight spot, with Kia's new-generation Sportage edging it out and Hyundai's new Tucson entering the segment in the top spot after replacing the smaller ix35 last year.

When asked what Honda could do to improve the fortunes of the CR-V in its next-generation guise, Mr Collins said while technology will be a focus, there is a chance it could be offered with a third row for seating for seven.

“I think we are looking at everything. I think engine technology is an important point that we are looking very closely at. We are looking at how can we expand opportunities more into the lower end of the larger SUVs and the seven-seat question comes up. So we are exploring all of those opportunities.” If Honda can offer a seven seat SUV it will fill a big hole in its line-up given it is unable to offer the Pilot large SUV due to it being built in left-hand-drive configuration only. The Odyssey people-mover is its only offering that can haul more than five people.

In terms of passenger cars, Mr Collins said the slow-selling Accord mid-sizer was a challenge for the brand as more and more consumers shift out of sedans and wagons and into SUVs.

“Accord is probably the most challenging right now. Accord is low volume for us, it's under 100 (units) a month, the segment is going down. It is tough work. We think Accord still has a role, we have a model change happening in a month or so. It is not a full model change, it is a mid-life change with some significant upgrades.

“In the longer term, that segment is a bit of a concern I think.

“Accord is a well-established name and a pillar of Honda, it is still selling in very big numbers in the US. The question is more what is that segment going to do in the next few years? Is it going to continue on the plane of large cars? Accord is very much part of our range and part of our plans but that segment is a worry.”

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