Tak­ing the gap in com­pact sedan mar­ket

IN­TER­VIEW/ De­nis Droppa caught up with Honda Mo­tor South­ern Africa’s pres­i­dent, Toshi­aki Kon­aka, at the re­cent launch in SA of the Honda Amaze small sedan

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

QThe small-sedan mar­ket is quite lim­ited. Is it worth­while launch­ing a car such as the Amaze, with such small vol­umes?

A: The first-gen­er­a­tion Amaze sold more than 250,000 units world­wide and the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion car has bro­ken sales records since be­ing launched in In­dia ear­lier in 2018. With the new Amaze we can reach a wider range of cus­tomers. The com­pact sedan mar­ket is not big, we ad­mit, but we ex­pect the Amaze to be one of our vol­ume mod­els.

The re­cent dis­con­tin­u­a­tion of the Polo Vivo sedan leaves 55% mar­ket share up for grabs in a seg­ment that sold more than 12,000 units in SA in 2017.

Q: Honda re­cently started in­tro­duc­ing tur­bocharged petrol en­gines in­clud­ing a 1.5T in the Civic and CR-V, and a 2.0T in the Civic Type R. Fol­low­ing the in­dus­try trend, can we ex­pect tur­bos with a smaller ca­pac­ity from Honda in place of its nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gines?

A: A 1l turbo is avail­able in Europe, but at the mo­ment we don’t have plans to in­tro­duce it in SA. It is a more ex­pen­sive en­gine.

[Honda’s small cars, in­clud­ing the Amaze, Jazz, BR-V and Bal­lade, are cur­rently pow­ered by nor­mally as­pi­rated en­gines from 1.2l to 1.5l in ca­pac­ity].

Q: And what about diesel en­gines? There are none left in Honda’s lo­cal line-up.

A: The global trend is now away from diesel en­gines. In­stead we are aim­ing to in­crease our num­ber of elec­tric ve­hi­cles. By 2030 two-thirds of Hon­das will be elec­tric. The Euro­pean CR-V has no diesel any­more and we’re in line with them. We are fin­ished with diesels in SA.

MEDIUM-TERM PLANS

Q: What are Honda’s medium-term plans? What new cars and mo­tor­cy­cles can we ex­pect to see?

A: We have re­cently launched the new Civic Type R, the up­dated HR-V and now the new Amaze, and there are no im­me­di­ate plans with our other car mod­els.

The Honda Ur­ban EV is a very nice car and we will try to find a chance to bring it here.

I hope we can do that in the near fu­ture.

On the motorcycle side we re­cently launched our Gold­wing tourer [which was a fi­nal­ist in 2018’s Pirelli Bike of the Year con­test], and you can ex­pect an up­grade to the Africa Twin ad­ven­ture bike.

Q: With most mo­tor com­pa­nies in­vest­ing in bat­tery elec­tric power, is Honda still com­mit­ted to hy­dro­gen fuel cell ve­hi­cles?

A: Bat­ter­ies re­quire elec­tric­ity and this pro­duces CO2 emis­sions. The ul­ti­mate goal is fuel cells, which pro­duce no pol­lu­tion, and we con­tinue to develop this tech­nol­ogy. By 2030 our model range will be two-thirds elec­tric, some of which will be hy­brids and fuel cells. As for SA, we might bring a hy­brid CR-V, though there are no spe­cific plans. There are also no cur­rent plans to bring the Clar­ity fuel cell car to SA. [A small num­ber of car com­pa­nies is in­vest­ing in fuel cell ve­hi­cles in­clud­ing Honda, which in 2008 launched its FCX Clar­ity as the first hy­dro­gen fuel cell ve­hi­cle to reach the mar­ket. Its suc­ces­sor, the Honda Clar­ity Fuel Cell, was launched in 2016 and at 589km it is re­puted to have the long­est range of any zero-emis­sion ve­hi­cle in pro­duc­tion].

Q: There have been some qual­ity is­sues with Hon­das built out­side of Ja­pan. How is this be­ing ad­dressed?

A: Yes, you’re right, there have been qual­ity is­sues es­pe­cially with In­dia-built cars. I think it’s been solved, and the qual­ity level of Indian cars, in­clud­ing the new Amaze, has reached global Honda lev­els.

In­ter­nally we made a huge ef­fort. The Indian and SA mar­kets and cus­tomers are to­tally dif­fer­ent, and we’ve spent huge en­ergy and time on this, to get the cars to meet lo­cal re­quire­ments. In the Indian Amaze fac­tory they have an ex­tra process es­pe­cially for the SA mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly in rust treat­ment, and that is just one ex­am­ple.

Q: Mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists tend to hate them, but what has cus­tomer re­sponse been to con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sions (CVTs), as used in the Amaze and other Hon­das?

A: Our cus­tomers are okay with CVTs. In nor­mal driv­ing a CVT is no prob­lem, it’s less stress­ful. Re­cent CVT tech­nol­ogy is quite ad­vanced and im­proved, and we’re con­fi­dent cus­tomers will ac­cept it and ap­pre­ci­ate the ben­e­fit.

THE TREND IS NOW AWAY FROM DIESEL EN­GINES. WE ARE AIM­ING TO IN­CREASE OUR NUM­BER OF ELEC­TRIC VE­HI­CLES

Launched at the 2017 Frank­furt mo­tor show to wide ac­claim, the Ur­ban EV Con­cept is a retro-styled, elec­tri­cally pow­ered hatch­back that is due to go into pro­duc­tion in 2019.

Toshi­aki Kon­aka says Honda is fin­ished with diesels in SA. Be­low: The Honda Amaze

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