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Honda’s road ahead

Honda’s road ahead

As Honda launches its 10th generation Accord, the carmaker’s general manager of business development and marketing for the Middle East, Anup Ravindranath, reveals how Honda plans to take a lead as the auto industry drives into a new era

How has Honda’s performance been over the past year? Are you pleased with how the last 12 months have been, or were you hoping for better?

“Last year, we were able to increase our sales in motorcycles, automobiles and power products as well as aircraft jet engines to about 30 million customers around the world. In the Middle East region, considering the fact that the overall market has contracted over the last 12 months, our performance has been in line with our expectations. Some countries have performed better than our plan and so have increased market share, however the fact remains that it still is a challenging environment for the region.”

What have been Honda’s main reasons to celebrate in 2017, and what have been its biggest challenges?

“In 2017, we were able to reach the 600 million-unit milestone in cumulative global production of motorcycles, automobiles and power products since the company’s foundation. In the Middle East region, we launched two new models in 2017 – CR-V and Odyssey – that continue to perform exceptionally well. In addition, we launched the Jazz and a new variant of the Civic (LX Sport) and updated the Odyssey J and the City, which is attracting new customers and helping us to increase showroom traffic. The biggest challenge is the decline in overall market. However, we are confident that with a strong product line-up and launch of the all-new Accord, we will strengthen our
sales performance.”

What is the current state of the region’s automotive industry? Has it suffered as a result of the tougher economic conditions and the introduction of VAT?

“The automotive industry in general has declined quite significantly over the last year due to various reasons. We believe that consumers are getting used to the introduction of VAT and have been cautious over the last two months or so. However, this is a passing phase and we will see that the effect of VAT will fade off and consumer purchase confidence will rise back to pre-VAT period very quickly.”

What key challenges are on the horizon for Honda and other players in the auto industry?

“We will be working hard with our distributors to maintain our market share, and we strongly feel that we have a desirable model line-up that will help us to maintain our projected volume in these tough times. The Auto industry is going through some major changes, with electrification and ride share communities gaining pace. This will have a major effect in the next decade or so and we will have to adapt and change our business model accordingly.”

Honda has just launched its 2018 Accord – the 10th generation of its best-selling mid-size sedan. To what do you attribute the model’s success?

“Accord is one of the most important models for Honda in this region and is loved by our customers, selling over 19 million units globally since its introduction in 1976. This new model is all-new from the ground up. It is built on a new platform with a lower, wider stance, a lighter and more rigid unibody structure, a lighter and more sophisticated chassis, two advanced new power units, and Accord’s first-ever turbocharged engines, a new 10-speed automatic transmission.

“In recreating Accord for its 10th generation, Honda designers and engineers sought to convey ‘absolute confidence’ in every element of design and performance. Building on the bedrock character of Accord – its outstanding quality, fuel efficiency, packaging and sophisticated driving dynamics – they have imbued the 10th generation Accord with a new level of emotional appeal and premium quality. This Accord defies its mainstream mid-size sedan status, providing even more refined and engaging performance, a more spacious and up-scale interior, and the latest generation of advanced Honda safety and driver-assistive technologies.

“The Accord also won the 2018 North American Car of the Year award in January – testament to the design and technological advancements that our engineers incorporated into this new model.”

The Gold Wing motorcycle has also launched. What kind of growth are you seeing for Honda bikes in the region?

“Motorcycle volume in this region is mainly in the food delivery business and our models are very popular with the business owners and continue to increase sales year on year. The ‘fun’ segment of the business has also gained considerable popularity with various new and improved bikes in the offering and more and more young riders opting for two wheelers discovering their freedom and enjoying the spine chilling thrill and performance these models provide. Our entire range of fun, tourer and sport bikes are also available for our customers to experience in the region.

“Gold Wing is in a very niche market and has a huge following across the GCC region. We expect this model to increase our sales by at least 25 per cent and early indications are in line with our expectations.”

Saudi Arabia recently announced that women would be allowed to drive later this year. How does Honda plan to capitalise on this? Can we expect to see a big strategic push in the kingdom?

“We are working with our distributor in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia on how we can capitalise on this change. We believe that we have a unique opportunity in Saudi Arabia especially with models like the Accord, CR-V and the Civic, which are very popular among women in other parts of the region.”

What other growth plans does Honda have for the GCC?

“We are confident that with our current and future product line-up we are in a great position to increase our presence in the region. We will carefully study market requirements and will act in accordance with individual needs to ensure a steady growth trajectory in the region.”

A major topic for the auto industry is self-driving cars. This is especially pertinent in a city like Dubai, which has high AI ambitions. Will Honda make any big moves in this area? Last year the company said 2025 was the target for introducing autonomous vehicles – it this still the aim?

“We are planning to realise automated driving on highways in 2020. And then we will make them usable in a broader area including regular roads. Moreover, we will strive to achieve the technological establishment of ‘level 4’ automated driving for personal car use by around 2025.”

Electric Vehicles are planned for much sooner – 2019. Do you think this is the beginning of the end for petrol cars?

“Honda plans for various forms of electric vehicles to account for two-thirds of the company’s sales by 2030. Petrol models will continue in some form through hybrid models for the next few decades at least, but engine capacities will become smaller and we expect fuel efficiencies to improve considerably.”

How important is it that the auto industry takes a lead in environmental issues? What developments are Honda making in this area?

“Honda has endeavoured to solve environmental problems since the 1960s. We introduced the Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) engine, becoming the world’s first automaker to comply with the 1970 US Clean Air Act – a challenge thought by many at the time to be insurmountable. In 1992, we released the Honda Environment Statement to articulate the basic stance we had developed until that time to reduce environmental impacts at every stage in the life cycle of our products.

“We will continue to be the leaders in environmental protection through our products. We are addressing climate change by shifting to renewable energy with the aim of achieving zero CO2 emissions from our products and business activities. We are steadily lowering CO2 emissions by improving existing technologies while expanding our use of renewable energy and developing new zero-emission technologies for the future. With our passion and desire to contribute to the sustainable growth of society, the company will make every effort to contribute to human health and the preservation of the global environment in each phase of its corporate activity.

“Only in this way will we be able to count on a successful future not only for our company, but also for the entire world.”

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