Honda unveils new compact minivan

by Hiroko Nakata

Honda Motor Co. on Thursday unveiled its new compact minivan, the Freed, aiming to gain a bigger share of a segment that remains popular amid slow domestic car sales.

“There is an increasing trend of smaller cars in the domestic automobile market,” Honda President Takeo Fukui said. “That is because consumers pay more attention to cars that fit their lifestyles, in addition to rising gasoline prices and the environment.”

The Freed has a 1.5-liter engine and gets 16.4 km a liter. The vehicle is targeted at family users, offering a variation of five-, seven- and eight-seater vehicles.

The price for the five-seater starts at ¥1.638 million and for the seven-seater at ¥1.690 million.

Honda aims to sell 4,000 units a month in the domestic market. Fukui said he is not planning to launch the vehicle overseas.

Consumer choice has clearly changed in the domestic market. While sedans accounted for half of all car sales in Japan up until the early 1990s, minivans now make up nearly 20 percent of the market, up sharply from around 5 percent in the late 1980s, Honda said.

Honda claims the Freed provides a maximum interior space for a minivan of its size. It also has a low floor level so small children and elderly people can easily step in.

Honda also said the new vehicle has features friendly to pet owners, and provides enough space for large dogs if the rear seats are folded flat.