Honda: Taking the gap in compact sedan market
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
The 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.
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.