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Honda betting on fun with mini sports car as drivers look to cut costs

Bloomberg

Honda Motor Co., which expects half of the vehicles it sells in Japan this year to be minicars, will unveil its first mini sports car since 1996 amid booming demand for more fuel-efficient, cheaper autos.

The S660 concept mini sports car will be introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show next month and begin selling next year, Honda said. The two-seater will be a convertible, Ryo Sugiura, its exterior designer, told reporters.

The S660 will be one of the six minicars Honda plans to introduce by 2015 to challenge Daihatsu Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Corp., the leaders in a category that accounts for about 40 percent of all sales of new cars in Japan.

Minicar sales are projected to rise this year even as total demand shrinks after the end of government incentives, according to researcher IHS Automotive.

“The best point about minicars is their low cost,” Sugiura said, declining to disclose the planned S660 price. “This car will mainly be for sports car hobbyists.”

Called Kei cars in Japan, minicars have engines smaller than 660cc and are taxed at a lower rate.

Honda sold an open-top mini sports car, the Beat, from 1991 to 1996 in Japan. The car was priced at ¥1.39 million and total deliveries reached 33,682 units.

Daihatsu, a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp., sold a mini sports car, the Copen, from 2002 to 2012, with accumulated deliveries of about 60,000 units. Production ended in June 2012, but the carmaker plans to introduce a new model next year.

Honda, which introduced its N-Box minicar line in 2011, almost doubled its market share in the category to 18.4 percent in 2012 from a year earlier.

Its goal to make half its sales minicars would propel Honda past Daihatsu, which saw its market share fall to 33 percent in 2012 from 36 percent a year earlier. Suzuki accounted for less than 30 percent of minicar sales in the year that ended in March for the first time since at least 2007.

Honda will also premier an NSX sports car with a hybrid engine and a new N-series mini wagon at the Tokyo Motor Show, which is scheduled to run from Nov. 20 to Dec. 1.