Honda aims to put its cars back on the fleet radar with an expanded range and updated models, national leasing manager Huw Mellor tells Simon Harris
It’s 59 years since company founder Sochiro Honda set out a principle dedicating it to “supplying products of the highest quality, yet at a reasonable price, for worldwide customer satisfaction”.
Considering its global profile producing motorcycles, marine engines, power equipment and lawn mowers as well as cars, the last couple of years in the UK fleet market have been rather low key for Honda.
But although the company hasn’t been experiencing its strongest period in the fleet sector, it might well have reached a turning point.
A year ago, the introduction of an estate version of the Civic added a new model line (effectively offering an alternative to the Accord Tourer), while the 1.6-litre diesel engine replaced the 2.2-litre diesel in the Civic, bringing down CO2 emissions to a more competitive level.
Adding it to the CR-V in 2013 opened the door to those who offer company car drivers front-wheel drive SUVs, but in overall product terms, Honda cars had been treading water for a while.
In the background, the company has been preparing for what will be its busiest year for new cars in the UK. There will be models that will appeal to drivers, fleet operators and driving enthusiasts.
The corporate sales team, under head of fleet Rob English, has been gearing up for the new product offensive, which is expected to strengthen the brand’s presence in the fleet sector.
Huw Mellor, national leasing manager, says: “We had a quiet year for products in 2014, but we’ve been engaging with key leasing companies – the top 20 of the FN50 – to get their view of Honda, and what they see as potential opportunities for us.
“The feedback they gave us was that there is still a great deal of goodwill toward the Honda brand and the quality of the products. But we were not on the radar – that was the phrase they used – of many in the corporate sector. To put this right we need to have products that are optimum for fleets. The first part of the jigsaw is to have the right products, and these will be coming through in 2015. We’re expanding our range of cars and renewing existing ones.”
"Achieving 129g/km in the four-wheel drive CR-V will be a big selling point"
Mellor is speaking to Fleet News at the media launch of the revised Honda CR-V, the car in which Honda’s new bi-turbo 1.6-litre diesel engine is making its debut. It offers significantly reduced CO2 emissions in four-wheel drive versions of the car (front-wheel drive variants of the CR-V will only be available with the 120hp single-turbo 1.6-litre diesel).
Mellor invited three leasing company representatives to the event, to enable them to get a full update on Honda’s plans for 2015 as well as sample the updated model. But he says that the company is engaging with the fleet sector “at all levels” as it seeks to appear on the radar of businesses operating company cars. “It’s about being at events and getting ‘bums on seats’, explaining our USP and what’s different about our brand,” he says.
Simon Barrett, national corporate support manager, adds: “We knew 2014 would be a quiet year for new cars, but we had a Honda Experience Day for some of the leasing companies at the end of the year, with the full range of Honda products, including motorcycles, power equipment, all-terrain vehicles and power boats as well as our cars.”
He says it was a reminder of the broad range of Honda engineering, before the start of a year where there would be many new products and updates.
The CR-V is the world’s best selling SUV. It’s in the top three in its sector among retail customers, and top five for corporate sales. It’s also the best-selling petrol SUV, although very few of these are fleet registrations.
The company is now on a mission, with the revised model, to improve the CR-V’s market performance, as well as ensure there is no shortfall in capacity at its Swindon factory after Jazz production is moved elsewhere, leaving the plant building the Civic alongside the SUV.
Mellor explains: “When we knew we could fall below the 130g/km threshold with the new engine in the CR-V, we knew there would be much more interest in the product, not only because of the more favourable position when leasing sub-130g/km cars, but also because so many fleets now set an upper CO2 limit of 130g/km. Achieving 129g/km in the four-wheel drive CR-V will be a big selling point. We’re also looking forward to introducing the HR-V later in the year, which will also offer low emissions.”
As one of the pioneers in hybrid technology, Honda is continuing to develop this and other green powertrains.Although the next-generation Honda Accord has a hybrid variant, it will not be coming to the UK, but a hybrid CR-V at some point in the future has not been ruled out. The new NSX supercar will also use a sophisticated hybrid system to deliver high performance with reduced fuel consumption.
Honda is one of the leaders in hydrogen fuel cell technology and has confirmed it will be offering a fuel cell production car in the UK in 2016. Barrett says the production version will be similar to the FCV concept car shown at the Detroit motor show in January.
“Zero emissions with a 300-mile range and a 20-minute refuelling time will eventually give an additional option to customers who like the idea of electric vehicles but need a greater travelling range between charges,” he says.
A refreshed range, including a new fuel cell vehicle, could provide the much needed boost Honda has been hoping for.
March: Revised Honda CR-V
Significant facelift brings sharper handling, new connectivity and safety technology, and a twin-turbo 1.6-litre diesel engine to replace the old 2.2-litre diesel on 4x4 models. It gives the manual CO2 emissions of 129g/km – class leading in terms of power to emissions for four wheel drive. Nine-speed automatic option offers CO2 of 134g/km – dramatically lower than the 2.2-litre diesel with Honda’s five-speed auto.
Sharper looks, new technology and the addition of a Sport equipment grade will keep the Civic up to date. But, importantly, lower pricing will boost its appeal.
Summer: New Jazz
The Honda Jazz has always been a strong seller, especially to public sector fleets. The new model is expected offer better fuel efficiency, improved technology and new safety features. Although a decision has not yet been made for the UK, the new Jazz is also available as an EV in Japan.
Honda will re-enter the compact crossover sector with the Jazz-based HR-V. It will be available with Honda’s 120hp 1.6-litre engine, and will be front-wheel drive only.