Introducing the 2012 Ridgeline Sport
It all starts with the fact that there will be a 2012 Ridgeline, and, more importantly, a 2013 model as well. The former will hit dealerships later this year and include a more aggressive “Sport” version, with a black-out color scheme and a set of custom-look 18-inch wheels. The “sport truck” strategy is a traditional one in the body-on-frame pickup segments—used with proven success—and it also plays to Honda’s historical reputation as an athletic, driver-oriented brand. The automaker’s decision to move away from this position by focusing more on hybrids and less on providing a dynamic driving experience has definitely played a part in its recent sales woes, and this would be a great place to start turning things around.
While there’s certainly a limit to what Honda can do here, a strong marketing effort to reboot the Ridgeline, with a heavy emphasis on it being an active-lifestyle-type vehicle, would be an ideal fit given current industry conditions.
Simply put, with the fuel-efficiency-first bandwagon slowing to crawl and sales of body-on-frame vehicles surging, Honda is out in the cold without an entry that can even pretend it’s a “truck.” Now, I’ve often pointed out how the disparity in crossover sales between Kia and Hyundai helps explain Kia’s ability to outgrow its corporate cousin so far in 2011. Kia’s overall numbers are up 37.1 percent through the end of September, with increases of 47.1 percent on the car side and 25.1 percent for its crossover business; Hyundai’s results this year include a 20.2 percent overall sales improvement, but its car deliveries, up 25.4 percent for the year, are being held down by a mere 3.5 YTD increase in crossover sales.
Well, the same basic template fits when you look at the traditional big six and body-on-frame trucks. Toyota, Nissan, Ford, GM and the Chrysler Group all have them, and four of those five are among the industry sales-growth leaders, both last month and for the year to date.
The Ridgeline Sport, presented as an unabashedly fun-to-drive, fun-to-own truck that doesn’t give much of a damn about fuel economy, would at least get Honda onto the playing field.