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Honda brings CR-V back home to do battle with Nissan, Toyota SUVs

Bloomberg

Honda Motor Co. is bringing back the CR-V sport utility vehicle in Japan after a two-year hiatus, betting on the model to reclaim ground lost to rivals including Nissan Motor Co.

The automaker will start selling the globally popular crossover this week, targeting deliveries of 1,200 units a month, according to Takaaki Nagadome, who led the development of the new CR-V. Honda had stopped selling the car in Japan in 2016, betting the smaller Vezel is enough to meet demand for compact SUVs, he said.

While Japanese buyers have traditionally favored smaller vehicles, with minicars making up a third of sales, the popularity that SUVs have gained in markets from the U.S. to China is being seen in Japan too. Sales of such cars topped 500,000 units for the first time last year, with demand for models like Nissan’s X-Trail surpassing Honda’s expectations, according to Nagadome.

“The new CR-V’s mission is to steal customers away from the Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester, and the soon-to-come Toyota RAV4,” said Tatsuo Yoshida, a senior analyst at Sawakami Asset Management Inc. “It’s for those who are graduating from the Vezel.”

Honda is betting the three versions available in Japan — gasoline, hybrid and a three-row variant — will help revive demand for its nonminicar models, which saw domestic sales drop 5 percent this year through July. In comparison, Honda’s vehicles with engines no bigger than 0.66 liters — a Japan-only segment — clocked growth of 9 percent in the same period, according to industry associations.

Under President Takahiro Hachigo, Honda is reversing a strategy to focus on country-specific models and is instead leveraging mainstay global models in more markets to reduce costs. Last year, Honda reintroduced the Civic, its best-selling compact sedan, to Japan after a six-year absence.