Honda Motor Co. (7267), targeting a U.S. sales boost in 2014’s final months, upgraded the new Fit hatchback to raise the vehicle’s score in a key crash test and will replace the bumpers on cars made before the design change.
The 2015 Fit, the smallest auto Honda sells in the U.S., rated “Good” in four crash categories by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and “Acceptable” in the Arlington, Virginia-based safety group’s “small-overlap” test. The car had received a “Marginal” rating in the latter category when first tested by IIHS in March.
“We’d targeted a top safety pick for our customers in the subcompact segment and we really just weren’t satisfied with not achieving that,” Chuck Thomas, Honda (HMC:US)’s chief engineer for U.S. vehicle safety, said on a conference call this week. “We studied the results of that test and we were able to quickly respond with a modification to the Fit’s front bumper.”
Honda, which touts having the most models with top ratings from IIHS, posted a 1.3 percent decline in U.S. sales of Honda and Acura models this year through July while industrywide deliveries rose 5 percent. The Tokyo-based company, which counts the U.S. as its main international market, said demand was slower than planned because of a delay in the 2015 Fit’s North American release.
The small-overlap test, introduced in 2012, simulates a vehicle’s front corner colliding with a car, tree or pole. General Motors Co.’s 2014 Chevrolet Spark is the only other “minicar” rated as highly in IIHS testing, Thomas said.
“Fit is a very small car and given U.S. feelings toward small cars and safety the company clearly felt this was necessary,” said Alan Baum, an auto analyst at Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “Honda wants to show this is a safe car and found a way to do it that’s relatively easy.”
The bumper upgrade consisted of welding changes that strengthen its steel beam, Thomas said. The modification was implemented in June at Honda’s new Celaya, Mexico, plant that’s building the subcompact car. About 12,000 Fits built prior to the design change will get the new bumper as well, he said.
Current 2015 Fit owners will be able to get the modification free of charge through dealerships, the company said. As there is no U.S. regulatory requirement to make the change “this isn’t a recall,” said Thomas, who wasn’t aware of a previous case of Honda making a similar fix to a model as it was being released.
Honda’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California. The company’s American depositary receipts rose 1.9 percent, the most in three weeks (HMC:US), to $34.73 yesterday in New York. They’ve fallen 16 percent this year.
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