TOKYO Honda Motor Co (7267.T) is bringing the Civic sedan back home after seven years, betting buoyant overseas demand for the model would help drive sales in Japan and allow the automaker to shake off its domestic image as a maker of only minivans and compacts.
Allocating manufacturing capacity for the Civic in Japan may also enable Honda to free up production space in the United States, where the market for sedans is shrinking in favour of SUVs, at a time when U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is pushing automakers to make more cars in the country.
Honda on Friday said it would market the 2016 Civic sedan in Japan from summer, selling the locally made model in the country for the first time since 2010 - the year it stopped domestic production due to sluggish sales. The carmaker will also consider producing Civics in Japan for U.S. export.
Kimiyoshi Teratani, who heads Honda's Japan operations, said he hoped the Civic would help the firm regain its reputation as a maker of "sporty cars with attitude" in Japan, after years of focusing on popular entry level models and multi-purpose vehicles including the N-Box minicar and the Odyssey minivan.
"We've become known as a company specialising in minivans and 'kei' cars, and we realised our offering of 'Honda-esque' cars has become increasingly weak," he told reporters in Tokyo.
"The Civic may not be the NSX (Honda's supercar also marketed under the Acura brand), but it's another model we'd like to use to raise our brand image," he said.
Introduced in 1972, the Civic has sold 24 million units worldwide and is Honda's best-selling model in the United States, the automaker's biggest market.
The Civic posted record annual sales in 2016 in the world's No.2 auto market after the latest revamped version of the sedan was named the North American Car of the Year last year. Previous versions of the sedan had been criticised for their lack of reliability and uninspiring design.
However, given waning U.S. sedan demand, Honda has said it would consider shuffling its production portfolio in favour of its SUV models in the United States.
Teratani declined to comment on when the company may start manufacturing the Civic sedan in Japan for U.S. exports.
"We'd like to consider political developments and circumstances before determining the best way forward," he said.
Increasing U.S.-bound auto exports may rankle Trump, who has threatened automakers including Ford Motor Co. (F.N) and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203.T) with high border taxes on cars imported from Mexico, a growing auto production hub.
(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Himani Sarkar)