Honda trucks will take a while to roll out

Aug 4 | Updated: Aug 5 2005, 05:30am hrs
Honda Motor, which built its success in the US on Civic and other fuel-efficient compact cars, wont make bigger vehicles like full-size pickup trucks until at least 2010 after it develops a bigger, more powerful V-8 engine for them, according to its president.

A truck like General Motors Corp.s 19-feet Silverado needs an engine with 345 HP to tow its 6,000-pound (2.7-tonne) weight, more than a third bigger than the 255-HP V-6 that runs the Ridgeline, Hondas biggest vehicle. Each full-size pickup can generate $10,000 in profit, four times the margin on Hondas Fit compact car, according to an estimate by Credit Suisse First Bostons analyst Koji Endo. Honda President Takeo Fukui has been developing a V-8 engine to expand the Tokyo-based carmakers model range beyond sedans, sport-utility vehicles, light trucks and vans to compete with GM, Ford Motor and Toyota Motor Corp.

"We want to see how our V-8 engine performs," Mr Fukui said in Tokyo. "If we are to introduce a V-8 engine, it has to be environmentally-friendly." Honda may "consider it after 2010", he said.

Honda, the first Japanese carmaker to assemble vehicles in the US, is the only major assembler that doesnt sell a full-size pickup truck. The carmaker, which earns about 65% of its annual operating profit in the US, had been running its Pilot sport-utility vehicles, Ridgeline light trucks and Accord sedans on V-6 engines.

"If Honda increases its engine line-up, there will be more potential for the automaker to expand US sales," said Norihito Kanai, an analyst at Meiji Dresdner Asset Management Co. in Tokyo, which manages $2.5 billion in equities, including auto shares.

Honda, which began in 1948 as a manufacturer of engines and motorcycles, didnt produce cars until 1963. It sold mostly economy sedans and compact cars in the US until 1994 when it introduced the Odyssey minivan, a decade after DaimlerChrysler AGs Chrysler Caravan created a market segment for the vehicle.

About 56% of Hondas US sales last month were cars, with the remaining 44 percent made up of light trucks and sport-utility vehicles, according to Autodata Corp. GM, the worlds largest vehicle producer, sells two trucks for every car it has while the ratio of Fords truck sales to cars is three to one.

Hondas first pickup truck didnt begin selling until this year. The 17-foot Honda Ridgeline runs on a V-6 engine with 3.5-litre capacity.