TOKYO - Japan's second largest automaker Honda Motor plans to accelerate the launch of new hybrid cars, seeking to adapt quickly to changing customer demands, group president Takanobu Ito said Monday.
Honda will bring forward the launch of the CR-Z hybrid sports utility vehicle to February 2010 in Japan followed by North America and Europe months later, said Ito, who took the reins less than three weeks ago.
The company's hybrid technology, the "Integrated Motor Assist" which was introduced in the first generation of Honda's Insight hybrids a decade ago, will also be installed in its global best-selling compact Fit car, he added.
The Fit hybrid will hit the market in October next year. But Ito declined to reveal a price for the two cars, saying only that customers would find them affordable.
"With regard to four-wheeled vehicles, we would like to concentrate efforts on how to quickly expand hybrid vehicles," Ito told a small group of reporters.
"From now on, we would like to tie our business growth with our hybrid products and the global marketing of our compact cars," he added.
Honda earlier this year rolled out a revamped model of its flagship fuel-sipping Insight, which was the best-selling hybrid in April in Japan before being overtaken by rival Toyota's remodelled Prius.
Sales of green cars have surged since April here in part due to companies slashing the price of their recent models and government tax incentives, making them the most popular vehicles.
The economic downturn has increasingly pushed customers toward affordable and fuel-efficient vehicles and has stirred up heated rivalry among carmakers, prompting Honda increasingly to focus on developing its hybrid prowess.
The maker is developing ways to adapt the same hybrid technology to mid and larger-sized vehicles with two electric motors instead of one so as to improve mileage, Ito said. But he refused to say when the new cars would be ready.
The company, like many other Japanese exporters, is feeling the squeeze from a strong yen as well as the slow pace of recovery in major markets in the United States and Europe.
Honda is reducing its models and streamlining operations in order to cut costs, said Ito, who has also taken over as head of the company's research and development.
"Under such an economic downturn we need to choose our available resources and our technological capability in order to swiftly give direction to our business," Ito said.
He said a return to Honda's 2007 sales level could come in 2011 at the earliest, pushed by growth in emerging markets such as China and India thanks to robust demand for Honda's motorcycles.
For the current year to March, Honda has forecast net earnings of 40 billion yen (S$628 million) and operating profit of 10 billion yen. It expects to sell 3.21 million automobiles and 8.60 million motorcycles over the 12 months.