Honda aims to nearly double car sales in four years

TOKYO (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co 7267.T aims to almost double its global car sales to at least 6 million vehicles in four years, its chief executive officer said on Friday, as the Japanese automaker tries to catch up in emerging markets with cheap compact cars.

The Fit subcompact car and its series, as well as the small car Brio will be at the core of the company’s product offering. The lineup will help Honda meet its aggressive sales target in the year ending March 2017, CEO Takanobu Ito said.

“This is quite a big figure for us and there were debates over whether we should make it public, but unless we set a goal and work to figure out how we can achieve it, our business operations won’t be specific,” Ito told a news conference.

“Our car business depends on the Fit series and I am confident that this is definitely a core product in any region in the world.”

The Fit is known as the Jazz in some countries.

Honda aims to sell 3 million cars in Japan, the United States, Europe and other developed markets combined, up from about 2 million in the year ended March. It also wants to double sales to 3 million cars in emerging markets including India and China.

Honda's rivals are also expanding in emerging markets. Nissan Motor Co 7201.T is reviving its Datsun brand targeting buyers in the lowest end of developing markets while Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T makes its Etios compacts in India and Brazil.

The 59-year-old CEO did not elaborate on the firm’s biggest car market, North America, or its mainstay mid-sized car the Accord, which went on sale in the United States this month.

Honda will open new plants that will produce the Fit and its derivatives in Mexico and Japan. The Mexican plant will start work in spring 2014, and the Yorii plant in Japan will become operational in July 2013.

The Fit series is currently produced in 12 countries, including Japan, Brazil, China, India and Indonesia. The new Fit series will go on sale in Japan in 2013 and globally in the following two years. The Brio was introduced in Thailand and India last year.

Ito also set a goal for the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer to sell 25 million or more motorcycles globally in the year ending March 2017, up from 15 million it sold in the year ended March.

He reiterated that Honda will keep making 1 million cars in Japan, with a greater focus on 660 cc minivehicles that are selling well.

Earlier this week, Honda suspended operations at five car plants in China after violent anti-Japan protests erupted in the world’s biggest auto market, with some protesters destroying Japanese cars and setting fire to dealerships.

All five Honda factories in China have restarted work but are not operating at full capacity as parts suppliers have also been impacted by the protests, Ito said.

Following the rise in Sino-Japanese tensions, a delay in Chinese customs procedures is possible and Honda is making preparations to make sure its business will not be affected, Ito added.

Honda’s projected sales in China account for about 18 percent of its global sales volume.

Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Matt Driskill and Daniel Magnowski