DETROIT The first 12,000 U.S. customers who bought the 2015 Honda Fit subcompact cars will be asked to have the vehicles retrofitted to attain top marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Honda Motor Co (7267.T) and the IIHS said Thursday.
The action - which is not a safety recall aligned with U.S. safety regulators - is aimed at allowing all 2015 Fit cars to have the same, more robust front bumpers as cars made after June 9, when Honda changed the way they were produced, Chuck Thomas, chief engineer for vehicle safety at American Honda, said.
Honda said it would inform the affected 12,000 Fit owners late in September to bring the cars to dealers for the retrofit.
The launch of the 2015 version of the Fit was delayed and it has not found a firm footing with U.S. consumers. Through July, Fit sales were down 12 percent from a year earlier.
Seven months ago, the IIHS said the 2013 model Honda Fit was one of the poorest performers among 11 subcompact cars tested to simulate what happens when the front corner of a vehicle hits another car, a utility pole or tree. Of the 11, only General Motors Co (GM.N)'s Chevrolet Spark scored well.
To be dubbed an IIHS "Top Safety Pick" - an honor automakers use in marketing - a vehicle must be rated at least "acceptable" in "small front overlap" tests and "good" in four other tests. The ratings are “good,” “acceptable," “marginal” and “poor.”
Honda asked for a second chance in the "small overlap protection" test once its 2015 Fit arrived, and had predicted in January that the car would improve to a "good" rating.
But in an IIHS test in March, the subcompact only improved to "marginal" from "poor" in January, keeping it from attaining the top safety award from IIHS.
After changing the way it produced the cars in Mexico by adding more robust welds to a steel beam behind the face of the front bumper, the company asked the IIHS for another test.
Honda then improved to an "acceptable" rating - enough to get the top IIHS safety award.
“We commend Honda for its quick response ... and for taking the additional step,” of reinforcing its front bumper, said IIHS President Adrian Lund.
Honda and its Acura brand have a combined nine models deemed tops for safety by IIHS, tying for the most among automakers in the U.S. market with the Subaru brand of Fuji Heavy Industries (7270.T).
Since 1999, manufacturers have requested re-tests about two dozen times and called back vehicles that performed poorly, IIHS said.
Last year, the Toyota Camry sedan improved its rating after doing poorly in initial IIHS testing, but did not call back Camrys already sold.
Consumer Reports pulled its recommendation of the 2013 Honda Fit after it performed poorly in January and is now testing the 2015 model.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)