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Image makeover to lift Honda

Pushing the right buttons: With brand ambassadors such as Jenson Button and a mighty 427kW NSX supercar, Honda says its image will be transformed.

Thumbs up from Button as new NSX, F1 racing boost Honda’s brand image

21 Mar 2016

HONDA describes the arrival of its HR-V crossover as a “turning point” for the company’s fortunes but admits a strong core model line-up is only part of the road to recovery, with a brand image overhaul a critical element in the Japanese car-maker’s return to prominence.

As GoAuto has reported, Honda is rallying its troops with a more attractive product range, starting with the HR-V and the forthcoming new-generation Civic.

However, the company is accompanying the revitalised range with a fresh focus on its image.

Over the coming months, Honda is aiming to change its consumer perception with a new halo car in the form of the NSX supercar and a revised marketing and communications approach, while maintaining a focus on its motorsport involvement.

Speaking at the 2016 Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne last weekend, McLaren-Honda F1 driver Jenson Button told GoAuto that Honda’s commitment to the racing series was borne more out of a passion for the sport than as a strategy to sell more cars.

“I think for a lot of manufacturers, they go racing to promote their road cars, but I personally feel it’s the other way round with Honda,” he said.

“I feel that they build road cars so they can go racing. They are so passionate about motor racing and that’s why it’s such an exciting brand to work with.

“It’s not just a bunch of board members that think, ‘What can we do for our road car sales?&rsquo.”

Honda has a clear motor racing history, but without a direct link from the racetrack to the road some of that high-octane association may be lost in translation.

However, the arrival of the all-new NSX around November this year – the company’s first supercar in a decade – will serve to reinforce the company’s racing heritage, according to Honda Australia director Stephen Collins.

“NSX is clearly a halo car,” he said. “It’s drenched in Honda DNA and it’s a showcase of technology.

“I think that’s what the NSX did 20-odd years ago. It was the first Japanese supercar and its technology at the time was pretty amazing, so I think this one will do the same thing.

“It will draw people into the showroom, turn heads when it goes down the road and it will be a great car.”

In addition to the new flagship, Mr Collins said the company’s marketing and promotional approach needed revisiting and a portrayal of the Honda badge as a more exciting brand was necessary.

“We’re investing heavily in our branding and communications, and I think we are trying to be more emotional. It’s about making our communications enjoyable and fun and something people want to see because Honda is a bit different.”

Mr Collins explained that the HR-V compact SUV represented a new direction for the company and the arrival of the Civic and a revision of the larger CR-V would continue to accelerate sales from the lull of recent years.

“I think HR-V was the turning point,” he said.

“The next step is Civic. It’s going to compete in the biggest segment in the market and having a very competitive sedan and hatch is important.

“After that the next big thing will be expanding the appeal of CR-V. Delivering new engine technology and more sportiness is a CR-V dream. It’s about getting our core models right.

“Jazz is the other one for us, which is a core part of the business. I think that’s what is going to bring us back to our rightful position.”

While the company has recently set a more realistic goal of 50,000 sales per year, Mr Collins said that “rightful position” could be a return to 60,000 annual registrations, which would boost Honda Australia’s ranking from the 10th biggest-selling brand to a higher position.

“Next year we are certainly planning on 50,000 cars. This year we will do about 40,000, and I guess we have ambitions to get back to the 60,000 units that we were in 2007,” he said.

“For us it’s about sustainable growth. Rapid unreasonable and unsustainable number is not where we want to be.”

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