Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Honda (ARTA) and Ralph Firman parts company in Super-GT

According to Autosport Japan magazine, Honda via ARTA have decided to part company with english racer and ex-F1 driver Ralph Firman. Firman have been with the ARTA team racing in the GT-500 class of Japan's Super GT championship for many years, winning at least one driver & manufacturer title and delivering countless race wins and pole positins. Also confirmed to be leaving ARTA is team-mate Yuji Ide, this time confirmed via his personal homepage at

Note that at this time however, news of Ralph Firman's leaving is only from Autosport and Honda has not yet issued an official press release confirming his departure. As the Super GT championship nears its start later this year, Honda will issue press statements detailing their challenge - teams using the new HSV 010GT race car, as well as drivers and team personnel. We will publish the official announcements when that becomes available.

In the meantime, Team Kunimitsu have already announced their intention to continue with their drivers lineup of Takuya Izawa and Naoki Yamamoto during the Tokyo Auto Salon on January 15th last week. This has also been posted on the official Super GT website.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

JDM Honda Fit Shuttle (dealer update)

Just came back from the local dealer and saw the dealer pre-release info.

Pics like the one bellow came from the salesmen training brochure.

After having a close look to both brochures and speaking with the dealer, here is what I can tell you :
  • Contrary to some early rumours, it's not a 7 seater, but simply a 5 seater Fit Wagon. The front seems to come straight from the current US version (20cm longer) and the rear has been extended about 30cm to make room for a larger trunk, which becomes class leading in Japan when compared with other compact wagons like the Corolla.
  • Inside expect a Fit except from higher trim details and options. According to the dealer Honda expects some people driving larger vans and wagons to downsize to the Shuttle, which is why special attention has been put over road noise, seating fabrics (which get a suede/leather combo standard on all models), etc.
  • Outside you can see it in the pics, though those have been taken from a phone, probably not with the agreement of the dealer, and they are a bit distorted.
  • Engines are either the 1.5L CVT or 1.3L CVT Hybrid (i.e. exactly the same as in the Fit but without the most popular 1.3L version). Right now I can't remember exactly but I think there was also a 1.5L 4WD 5AT.
  • Rated FE is the same as in the Fit, i.e. 30km/L on the hybrid and 20km/L on the 1.5L FF gasoline. Note that those figures are Japanese 10-15 mode and not to be compared with anything EPA/EUDC stuff. As I said, rated figures are identical to the regular Fit's.
  • As predicted by the early rumours, debut is said to be around March.
  • Price to sit between the Fit and the CR-Z, which is not much to say. Personally, I wouldn't expect to pay more than 200k over the Fit, i.e. a bit less than for an Insight.

Other than that, I'm intrigued by the USDM long front; does it mean there is any chance Honda will bring it to the US? If not, why make it longer and lose some maneuverability; just a matter of styling?

Source : Japanese Honda dealer

Monday, January 17, 2011

StepWGN is Japan's 2010 best selling van (8 seats)

Honda finally did it and, 3 generations after the original StepWGN redefined the segment in 1996, the new StepWGN has climbed to the top of the sales charts once again.

After a very close battle for the mid-year crown, the gap with the 2nd placed Nissan Serena increased to about 6000 units despite the Serena's November FMC, ending 80.934 vs. 75.040 for 2010. That was good enough for an overall 7th place in the Japanese market (excluding k-cars).

Interestingly, both the new Toyota Voxy and Serena beat the StepWGN's fuel economy (which was best in class when it reached the market in 2009), but it seems that consumers are looking beyond that this time around. I wonder though if it'll be able to retain the lead for a second year (it was the best selling van in December but that was a first since September).

As predicted though, the StepWGN couldn't match its smaller Freed brother, who ended up on a respectable 5th place at 95.123, helped by the recently introduced Spike variant. In my opinion, the rumored hybrid scheduled for this fall could give it the strength to fight for a top4 in 2011.

For those having more interest on Japanese market, here is the rest of the top 5.
  • Market leader was of course the Prius by a wide margin (315.669), and having broken Corolla's two decades old record.
  • Second was to the Fit (185.439), which is closing on the Prius since the government green cash-back campaign ended in September, but still can't reach Toyota's all mighty rival. Some analysts say that is unlikely to happen until the end of the green tax-incentives that remain in place until 2012.
  • Third was Toyota's Fit fighter, the Vitz/Yaris (122.248), and fourth was for the fleet-friendly Corolla that sells in so many different variants is difficult to keep track of them (111.265).

Sources : Honda PR, Japan Automobile Dealers Association.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Latest rumours for Malaysia

Just back from the annual Honda Media gathering event. Some interesting news and rumours. In the presentation delivered in conjunction with the CEO's speech, amongst the current models shown, very briefly the CR-Z also flashed on the screen.

In last year's event, it was the Freed which was very briefly shown. Then I knew Honda Malaysia intended to launch it (the Freed) last year which turns out to be true. So following 'history', the photo of the CR-Z shown this year means Honda Malaysia is working on bringing the CR-Z here. It is most logical and somewhat unavoidable actually, as eventhough the FD2 Civic Type-R is still officially on sale, it was 'NOS', meaning whatever is left of the unsold units Honda Malaysia brought in last year before production was actually stopped in October. So the FD2R will very quickly dissapear from the local line-up. This means a 'sporty model' is needed to replace the FD2R and the only model which meets this criteria in any form today is the CR-Z.

The original plan was to actually launch it in 2012, mainly due to the inability of the Japan factory to meet demands: i.e. it is true that for the CR-Z, demand outstrips supply. But because of the extra-ordinary incentive offered by the Malaysian government (where practically all taxes are dropped for hybrid cars) and which will only last till the end of this year, just like the Insight, there is now a renewed sense of urgency to get approval to launch the CR-Z in Malaysia. Again, much depends on the ability of the Japan factory to meet the demand.

Also highlighted in the presentation was that to-date, almost 1,500 Insights have been officially sold. I.e. confirmed bookings have been received for 1,500 units but of course, none has been delivered so far as stocks is still on the way over here. The intention by Honda Malaysia is to start delivery of the first units by next month, a few weeks ahead of original schedule.

Some bad news. Regardless of whether there will be a 9Gen Civic Type-R, Malaysia will not be able to get it anymore. It seems that the FD2R was a very special exception, given because Honda's brand image needs an urgent boost here in Malaysia. So the FD2R was approved for sale here. My understanding is several countries in Asia and outside have tried to get approval as well, and all have been rejected. This must have caused some amount of friction internally as questions must have obviously been asked why a small country like Malaysia can get approval but not the larger countries which can commit to a much larger sales target. Well, that puts paid to whatever chances Malaysia have got for the 9Gen CTR. This also means that whoever owns an FD2R, he or she should really treasure it because it is indeed a very unique, once a lifetime opportunity to own such a gem.

Finally, it was officially confirmed that the 9Gen Civic for Asia (including Japan) has been delayed. Until when, I am not at a liberty to tell. But rumours that the delay was because the current outgoing 8Gen is such a well balanced package that Honda is having a hard time ensuring the 9Gen will meet high expectations, is indeed true. As the sedan market in Japan has been shrinking steadily, so the Civic is no longer that critical a model that it used to be (which is sad because of all models, the Civic is considered the heart and soul of Honda). So a delayed launch is acceptable now. And this means a delay for Asia as well.

The 9Gen concept Civic for the U.S. and Canada has already been shown in Detroit and it will actually be launched in a couple of months time, followed closely by the Civic Hybrid a few months later. For Asia, it seems that it is still some time away.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Honda Exhibition at Tokyo Auto Salon 2011

January 12, 2011 - Honda Motor Co., Ltd. announced that it will present an exhibit at Tokyo Auto Salon 2011 with NAPAC, to be held from Friday, January 14, to Sunday, January 16, 2011, at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan. On display will be automobiles and motorcycles (including display vehicles), power products, racing vehicles, and other products, that highlight the many possibilities that customization has to offer while simultaneously conveying the joy of mobility and motorsports appeal.

At this year's event, Honda Access Corporation, the manufacturer of genuine Honda aftermarket parts and accessories, will display a TS-1X test study model based on the CR-Z.

Also on display are accessorized production automobiles and motorcycles, along with a variety of specially designed vehicles to show the playful nature of customization, such as the Freed Spike caravan car, the Acty Truck and the Enepo generator special coloring editions.

Racing vehicles on display will include the HSV-010 GT machine, which won both the driver and team titles for the Super GT Series GT500-class races, and the RC212V, which competed in the MotoGP class races, the pinnacle of world motorcycle road racing competition.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

9Gen Civic Concept Debuts in the U.S.

A.H.M. (American Honda Motors) has debuted the new 9th Generation Honda Civic Sedan and Coupe concepts at the Detroit Motor show now running. We are covering this event first-hand via our main (Temple Of VTEC) site which is focussed on the U.S. and Canada markets. For more information and more photos, including our own photos (like the above), please visit our news article via the link below

For the million dollar question now on probably every Honda enthusiasts' lips in Asia, this is not 'exactly' what we will see. The 9Gen U.S. Civic will debut in the U.S. and Canada this quarter itself. The Euro version (which is very different) will follow suit soon. But once again, the JDM version will be a different version from the U.S. and Euro. My understanding is that it will not debut so soon. I suspect (this is a personal guess) the 9Gen JDM Civic will launch probably during in the Tokyo Motor Show which should be run around end of this year. This makes its debut around half a year later than the U.S. and Euro debut. My understanding also is that the Asian Civic will once again be based on the JDM version. So once again, we have to wait for HRT in Thailand to develop the 'approved' Asian edition, then for HAT (Honda Automobile Thailand) to launch it, before we can expect to see it in the rest of Asia.

At this moment in time, I do not have or is not able to discuss more details about the car. I was given an assurance that there WILL be a Civic Hybrid which, as proven by the U.S. version, will use the new Lithium Ion (LiOn) batteries which has been developed by the Honda-Yuasa joint venture. As expected, I could not get any committed answer whether the 9Gen will also see a Civic Type-R or not.

Expect to see the 9Gen Asian Civic end of this year or early next year. This however is just my own personal estimate.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Fit variant for Japan : Fit Shuttle

News of a new variant of Honda's most popular model, the Fit, known as the Fit-Shuttle is now everywhere in japanese car magazines.

While not yet confirmed in Honda's own site at, this new variant is FOR REAL. It is a 7-seater compact station wagon in configuration, similar to the Honda AIRWAVE in the previous generation line-up of the JDM Honda Fit (though the AIRWAVE was more a 5-seater station wagon in configuration).

Key components of this new Fit-Shuttle, the design, power-train and so forth as derived from the Fit as with the Airwave. The leaked brochure pages shows that there will be three main types available, a 1.3l, a 1.5l, and a HYBRID. Expect similar if not almost identical powertrain and transmission specifications as the JDM Fit.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The FN2R in Malaysia ?

In the recent KLIMS 2010 last month, one of the exhibits was a red FN2R. According to one of the HM staff I chatted with, the FN2R was exhibited in the KLIMS for two primary reason. Firstly they wanted to highlight the continued commitment to sporty models in Honda's line-up. It is no secret that many Honda die-hards are frustrated with the lack of outright sporty models in Honda's current line-up. The fact that Honda discontinued production of the highly regarded FD2R met especially great reactions from the fans.

In the KLIMS, Honda Malaysia displayed the new hybrid CR-Z 2-door sports coupe as its primary showcase. Meanwhile quietly sitting in a corner is the red FN2R. Does that indicate the HM is planning to sell this model in Malaysia ? The logical implication is that to continue to maintain its sporty reputation, with the FD2R gone, the FN2R would be the replacement.

The work needed to get permission to sell the FD2R here was tremendous. The truth is Malaysia is such a small market that it is difficult to justify the sale of any niche model which a Type-R definitely is. But with the great benefit from that work already in place, it would be a waste to just let the FD2R disappear and HM be left without a true sports model yet again.

But the other angle is that if HM wants to sell the FN2R here, they have to re-do most of the work they did with the FD2R. For this, it is important to bear in mind that the 8Gen Civic is nearing its end-of-life and for Europe, the new 9Gen Civic will be launching very soon. Does it make sense to spend a lot of effort to launch what is essentially an previous generation model for sale here and only a few months (obviously units must be imported from Europe but they won't be manufacturing it anymore very soon).

So the logical choice would be that if any work is to be done to justify for a replacement for the Fd2R, that replacement must be the hybrid CR-Z.

So, why then did HM display the FN2R ? According to what I was told, with the FD2R no longer available, for this year's MME Honda Malaysia intend to field an FN2R. So this then seems to be the REAL reason for that FN2R in the Honda booth in KLIMS 2010.

10 Days, 500 bookings

Honda Malaysia Sdn. Bhd. announced the All-New Insight has now received over 500 confirmed bookings after only 10 days from the official launch. This marks a significant milestone as it is the highest ever achieved confirmed bookings of a hybrid vehicle in Malaysia, within such a short period of time.

In 2009, the total industry volume (TIV) was 505,509 units. Out of that, total hybrid cars sold was just a mere 0.06% which accounts for 297 vehicles. Today, the confirmed bookings of the All-New Insight alone have already exceeded the total hybrid vehicles sales in 2009 by 40%. This number of confirmed bookings is a 12.5% achievement of its 2011 target of 4,000 units.

As part of Honda’s continuous effort to strive for Customer Satisfaction No. 1, Honda Malaysia will expedite to complete the delivery of the 500 bookings within a period of one month. Delivery will start from 15 February 2011.

The All-New Insight is an entry hybrid model priced at RM98,000.00. To further encourage the use of hybrid vehicles here, Honda Malaysia is extending the warranty of the All-New Insight’s battery for another 2 years, on top of the 3-year warranty offered by Honda Motor, Japan. The 5-year or 140,000 km warranty, depending on which comes first, is Honda’s commitment to promote the use of hybrid technology and to provide better customer satisfaction. Furthermore, Honda Malaysia will be reducing the price of the All-New Insight spare parts, especially its battery by more than 40%.

In Malaysia, the All-New Insight is targeted at eco-oriented individuals who believe in doing their part to protect the earth for future generations. It is also intended for independent and image conscious young professionals who are aware of eco issues, and would consider using environmentally friendly products if they offer great value with practicality and style.

For more information on the All-New Insight, please call Honda Toll Free number at 1-800-88-2020, or log on to

New CEO for Honda Malaysia

Honda Malaysia announced the appointment of a new Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer earlier this week. Yoichiro Ueno-san has been announced as the new M.D./C.E.O. replacing outgoing Toru Takahashi-san.

Ueno-san, 47, was previously the Assistant Vice President of Automobile Sales of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., where he was involved in the overall planning and coordination of national sales and marketing
in the US market. He brought with him over 20 years of working experience in Honda's automobile business and a wealth of knowledge in the global automotive industry, having served markets outside Japan like New Zealand and Thailand, and worked with overseas division and countries such as Asia & Oceania, China and North America.

When he was with American Honda Ueno-san worked extensively with their huge network of dealers. “Although I was involved in strategizing the sales and marketing operation on the national level, I had a lot of opportunities to visit dealers in various states, which helped me understand the different business circumstances in each area, find out the common issues and propose the best plan to be executed on the nationwide scale. I was also deeply involved in improving inventory efficiency, such as sales and production planning, minimizing the inventory balance amongst dealers and enhancing logistic efficiency.”, he said.

Commenting on his transition from the US to Malaysia market, Ueno said: "US is a large country and it has the biggest sales volume of Honda cars worldwide. In order to manage the big volume and the large number of dealers, American Honda has a very advanced system and logistic network. However, the process in which every customer makes a purchase at a Honda dealership is the same regardless the size of the market. The approach to maximize a customer’s satisfaction is also the same."

He continued: "As the price of new cars in Malaysia is relatively higher, I assume customers here would expect more. In order to satisfy such high expectations, I believe we need to provide an excellent standard of customer service."

Ueno expressed the importance of making Honda a successful car brand in Malaysia as part of the Japanese automobile manufacturer's strategy to create a strong hold for the brand in Asia. "When I joined Asia-Oceania Division in 1990, it was already widely believed that Asia would be a market with biggest potential. Indeed, from the 90’s through to 2000’s, Asia's growth and demand of cars grew tremendously. In this fast-growing region, I believe Malaysia plays a core role contributing to Honda's regional growth, due to its advantages of geographic location, human resources and fundamentals for advanced industries. Honda’s success in Malaysia will continue to be essential to establish a strong Honda brand in Asia."

Speaking specifically on how he will be able to contribute to the Malaysian operation, Ueno set himself the challenge of maintaining Honda Malaysia's growth momentum. "In Malaysia, Honda has not only established a strong brand image, it has also grown significantly in sales volume by approximately 18,000 units or +2.1% market share in the last three years. By working together with Honda Malaysia's associates and dealers, I hope to upkeep the pace of growth and bring Honda Malaysia's business to its next level," he said.

Ueno started running in US three years ago and have since participated in four marathon races. Through this experience, he has encountered the famous words of Mizuki Noguchi, who is Japan’s best and the world's third record holder for women’s marathon. "Her line 'The distance you have run never fail to reward you' has become my personal mantra. It means the effort you have made will never be in vain, and that you cannot accomplish anything without continuous efforts,” said Ueno.

Similarly for business, there is no success through chance or luck -- continuous effort is the key to accomplishment, which is the ultimate source of joy and challenge.