LOS ANGELES—A year ago, the mantra being pushed by Honda executives was that "cars matter"—a compelling message for a brand that derived almost half its volume from sedans and hatchbacks at the time.
But as the market continues its relentless shift toward crossovers and pickups, it turns out that trucks matter more—even at Honda.
The brand is now implementing a major change in strategy to emphasize the rugged, off-road capability of its light trucks to pick up more market share.
Honda estimates the overall U.S. auto market this year has shifted to 76 percent light trucks and 24 percent passenger cars. Honda itself has a mix of 56 percent light trucks to 44 percent cars through the third quarter. So for Honda, light trucks clearly are a big opportunity.
"As the market approaches 80 percent trucks, we have to make sure we play in that pond," said Art St. Cyr, vice president of automobile operations at American Honda Motor Co.
Doing that, he said, will mean adjusting the styling of key models to reflect more of an off-road ability.
"We have a very strong light-truck lineup. It's just making sure that customers realize what we have, what our capability is," St. Cyr told Automotive News at Honda's North American headquarters in Southern California last week. "People don't realize what they can do."
Honda is tackling that perception with fresh product and marketing. Vehicles such as the Ridgeline pickup, the Passport midsize crossover and the Pilot, which all share a platform, are being freshened and redesigned with a more rugged physical presence, executives said.
Last week, Honda presented the 2021 Ridgeline with revised styling that will go on sale early next year. The freshened pickup gets new sheet metal at the front to give it a chunky hood and square grille similar to most pickups. A new Honda Performance Development package adds fender flares.