New Fit platform key to Honda’s growth

Automotive News
July 29, 2013 – 12:01 am ET

Honda Division is entering a somewhat fallow period for new products, since its four big-volume vehicles — the Civic, Accord, CR-V and Odyssey — have recently been redesigned.

But there will be plenty of changes to other models, especially light trucks, as well as variants to those four nameplates. And the Fit subcompact platform will become much more prominent in Honda’s North American growth plans.

As vehicle redesigns occur, Honda will install its new-generation Earth Dreams engines, which have direct injection and double-overhead cams. Compared to Honda’s current four-cylinder engines, the new design will bring at least a 10 percent fuel economy advantage.

Also, Honda is going big with continuously variable transmissions. Performance models and off-road vehicles will retain geared transmissions, but mainstream street-going cars will feature CVTs. A plant opening in Mexico will add up to 700,000 units of CVT capacity by 2017.

Here is a look at Honda’s future product plans:

Fit: The redesigned subcompact coming in the summer of 2014 will be built at Honda’s new plant in Celaya, Mexico. Honda will install the Earth Dreams 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 127 hp and 111 pounds-feet of torque, as well as a CVT. Although built locally, expect the new Fit to stick to the global platform.

Fit EV: The next Fit will have a different suspension module for hybrid and EV versions. It likely won’t arrive until spring 2016.

Fit crossover: A concept crossover based on the Fit platform, called the Urban SUV, was unveiled at the 2013 Detroit auto show. It is 169.3 inches long, about 9 inches shorter than the Honda CR-V compact crossover. The production version, coming in the summer of 2014, will have the same Earth Dreams engine as the Fit, but could get an added turbocharger for upmarket models. Limited cargo capacity will be counteracted with Fit’s fold-flat “Magic Seats” and by stashing the fuel tank under the front seats rather than behind the rear suspension.

Insight: Honda Motor CEO Takanobu Ito is noncommittal about whether Honda will produce a next-generation Insight to go head-to-head with the Toyota Prius. But Honda recently unveiled its next-generation single-motor IMA hybrid system with a lithium ion battery. It is connected to an Atkinson-cycle engine and combined with a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. More may be revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show in November.

Civic: Contrary to press reports, the Civic will not receive an Earth Dreams engine until its redesign in spring 2016.

Civic Hybrid: When the Civic is redesigned, the hybrid version will move from its one-motor IMA system to a two-motor system that allows extensive electric-only driving. One motor powers the wheels; the other recharges the batteries. It will be a cheaper version of the same system that is in the Accord Hybrid.

CR-Z: The possibility of a gasoline-powered version of the hybrid coupe is being studied for the next generation arriving in summer 2015.

Accord: After being redesigned last fall, a two-motor hybrid version arrives this summer. The hybrid will team a 124-kilowatt electric motor with a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle engine for a projected 49 mpg. Expect the next redesign in the second half of 2017.

Crosstour: Balky styling has hindered customer acceptance. Designers are looking at something more akin to an Audi Allroad for the next generation, arriving in spring 2015.

FCX Clarity: Honda’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will be redesigned in mid-2015. The vehicle likely will be shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in November. Honda recently signed a technology-sharing deal with General Motors to develop the next-generation fuel cell for 2020, but insisted that there will be no badge engineering.

CR-V: Redesigned for the 2013 model year; the next one is expected in the first half of 2017.

Element: There will be no new Element. The CR-V and Fit-based crossover will fill that space.

Pilot: The wheelbase for the recently redesigned Acura MDX, which was increased by 3 inches, will be carried over to the redesigned Pilot when it arrives this fall. But because the MDX has an expensive suspension system, expect some minor cost-shaving changes to suspension components to hit the Pilot’s price point. Sheet metal should move away from the “angry robot” look. It likely will get a 3.5-liter Earth Dreams V-6 that generates around 310 hp and 265 pounds-feet of torque.

Odyssey: A freshened version, with an optional built-in vacuum cleaner, goes on sale this summer.

The next generation arrives in fall 2016 on the Acura MDX platform, although expect a lower-cost suspension — possibly an air-spring setup — to hit a lower price point. When redesigned, the Odyssey will receive the 3.5-liter Earth Dreams V-6.

Ridgeline: Honda sources insist the company needs to keep a unibody pickup offering, but its styling, fuel economy and sticker price are arguments against it. The current platform runs until fall 2014, but there are no signs of a replacement.

Louisville Kentucky Honda Dealer, Bob Montgomery Honda, http://www.bobmontgomeryhonda.com

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