Nicholas Phillips, Honda UK corporate sales manager, said: 'With an initial price structure giving keen value and service, maintenance and repair costs which have been further improved after the introduction of 9,000-mile service intervals and a three-year warranty, we know we have a package which our competitors will find hard to match.
'However, our stronger image in the street is the factor which will be the clincher for higher residual values. We might be £400 dearer than the Toyota Avensis on list price but figures from Emmox show that the Accord will be £700 cheaper to run than the Toyota over three years/ 60,000 miles. When it comes to the Vauxhall Vectra, the difference is £2,000 in our favour.'
At a pre-launch presentation to 60 leasing company executives in the Jordan race team's boardroom at Silverstone, Phillips predicted that the 18-strong five-door model range would account for 15,000 of next year's expected 25,000 Accord registrations and said the car would be supported by additional corporate sales department staffing. 'Our department strength is already up to 29 and equals the size of the Rover corporate operation. Feedback from customers indicates that we are doing what they want and we will be creating more posts in the near future as we continue to expand,' he said.
'Britain's D-segment is worth 25% of the total market and equals 500,000 units. It is vital that we increase our presence in this area. While we believe it is important that we retain the retail popularity of our brand in order to maintain high residuals, at least six of every 10 sales of the five-door will go to the corporate sector.'
Built at Swindon alongside the four-door Accord, which was launched nine months ago, the five-door is being pitched as a premium alternative to mainstream models. 'The brand which was benchmarked for this car was Audi and our objective was to build a model that offered A4 quality at the price of a Ford Mondeo. We think we have achieved that, and it's an understatement to say we're very excited at the prospects it presents because we feel there's nothing else quite like it on offer,' said Phillips.
To be sold two-to-one against its four-door stablemate in the fleet market, the new model has been given a £1.5million budget to establish it on corporate lists. Over a two-week period, more than 500 key fleet specialists have sampled the car during one-day events in the Midlands, Manchester and Edinburgh, and weekend family days - and 250 of the executives drove away in high-specification demonstration models which are being kept for two-week periods.
Phillips added: 'By the time the five-door reaches the showrooms, I want every key fleet decision-maker to have experienced it. Our aim is for many more people to see for themselves that we have produced the most refined, safe and secure product in its category and yet are still able to offer the best performance in terms of driving, cornering and braking.'
On the road
CLEVER styling has resulted in Honda's five-door Accord continuing with the classic three-box design of the established four-door model. But swinging up the cunningly-disguised tailgate reveals a massive area well able to cope with the bulky loads that many people carry in estate cars. After stepping up production at Swindon to cope with the high order rate for the saloon, Honda appears to have given its biggest European product a surprisingly practical fresh dimension.
In an exclusive first drive, we found that the VTEC SE Executive 2.0-litre five-door offered the same level of driving refinement that has been acclaimed in its saloon counterpart. With impressive throttle response, sharp handling and crisp braking, complete with a comfortable ride, the five-door Accord continues in the four-door's tradition of offering fleet drivers a very tidy package. Significantly, the hatchback's modest weight penalty of about 50kg makes no discernible impact on acceleration and all-round capabilities.
In the model we tested, the sequential Sports shift automatic transmission allows the maximum benefit from a power unit which zips smoothly to 6,000rpm to provide a lively demeanour over fast cross-country routes, but selecting the regular Drive mode produces effortless progress on the motorway. Either way, under-bonnet noise is subdued. Rear passengers are also unlikely to feel compromised by the car's potential as a load-lugger. With the front seat set for a 6ft 2in tall driver, it is possible for another person of the same height to sit comfortably in the rear and still have sufficient knee and headroom.
Yet under the VDA system of measurement, the 'secret' hatchback provides an impressive 437 litres of load space when the 60:40 divided rear seat backrest is in position. Folding away the rear seat effectively allows this Accord to boast the carrying capacity of a small van. With a low sill and wide opening tailgate, its flat floor is easily accessible and also includes four security tie hooks. Opening high enough to swing clear of a six-footer, the tailgate provides bad weather cover and its neat trim includes lighting which also illuminates the area behind the rear of the car during loading.
Safety and security measures include SRS front airbags as standard, with side airbags an option on entry-level models and standard higher up the range. All-disc ABS with electronic brake force distribution is standard across the range, as are security measures including fully shielded locks and a rolling code immobiliser. Specification remains high throughout the range, and ES models now have a new CD stereo system from Bose.