Honda chief upbeat on prospects for fuel-efficient vehicles in U.S. market

by Hiroko Nakata

Despite growing worries over a recession in the United States, Honda Motor Co. President Takeo Fukui said Wednesday he is not pessimistic about the prospects for its biggest automobile market.

“We don’t expect the overall U.S. (auto) market to enter into a recession,” Fukui said at the Foreign Correspondents’s Club of Japan.

Fukui said Honda continues to enjoy strong sales in some regions of the U.S. Sales are at historic highs on the East Coast, although sales in Florida and California have fallen from the previous year, he said.

Honda said in December that it expects to sell 1.59 million vehicles in the U.S. in 2008, up 3 percent from 1.55 million last year.

Fukui said he sees stronger demand there for compacts than light trucks because of high oil prices and added that Honda plans to develop all kinds of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Honda plans to sell 400,000 hybrid vehicles a year worldwide between 2010 and 2012, which would account for roughly 10 percent of its sales, Fukui said.

That will include about 200,000 new hybrids Honda plans to launch in 2009 and about 100,000 sports hybrids to be released the following year, the automaker said.

Fukui also said once again that low pricing will not be a priority for Honda despite the unveiling of a 100,000 rupee (¥280,000) car by India’s Tata Motors earlier this year.

“Either in India or China, safety features are important (for selling cars),” he said. “A low price is not the only factor in attracting Indian customers.”