Friday, June 17, 2011

2012 Honda FIT Shuttle Late Honda car debut turns into hot event

Not for us in North America.... yet....
Honda headquarters is sweltering, executives are without ties and reporters are fanning themselves in a scene illustrative of the nation's struggle to conserve electricity since March 11, when the massive earthquake and tsunami sent the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into meltdown.

The scene unfolded as Honda Motor Co. launched the Fit Shuttle station wagon, including hybrid versions, for the domestic market Thursday — three months later than planned — another sign of the disaster's widespread impact.

The quake and tsunami destroyed Honda's parts suppliers, dealers and design facility in the Tohoku region.

Still, President Takanobu Ito was relieved the company had come this far.

"It was a real tough three months for us," he told reporters, wearing a casual beige jacket and no tie instead of his usual dark suits.

Cool Biz, the annual practice of allowing less formal attire to be worn in the office during the summer, is finally being embraced in a big way in the name of saving power. Now dubbed Super Cool Biz, some employees are even being encouraged to wear Aloha shirts and shorts.

Although no Honda executives were seen in shorts and their shirts were relatively staid, the nuclear crisis hung like a cloud over the event.

Tokyo-based Honda's invitation to the product launch — one of the first since March 11 — had warned that thermostats will be set at 28 degrees and that executives would be dressed in Cool Biz attire.

In addition to the Fukushima No. 1 crisis, which is expected to take years to resolve, another power plant was shut down months later over safety fears, causing the government to pressure companies and consumers to cut back on power use.

Automakers, a pillar of the economy, are under great pressure to cut power use 15 percent.
Autoworkers are producing cars on weekends and will instead take Thursdays and Fridays off for the next three months starting in July to reduce the load on power companies and avoid blackouts during peak demand periods.

Honda has said vehicle production in Japan will return to predisaster levels by the end of this month, and global production in August or September.

All orders for the Fit Shuttle will be delivered in two months' time, said Sho Minekawa, the executive in charge of Japan sales. There are no plans to offer the model overseas so far.

"We are finally able to introduce this product," he said. "We apologize to all those who have been waiting."

The Fit Shuttle, which comes as a hybrid (starting at ¥1.81 million) and with a gasoline engine (starting at ¥1.61 million), delivers the same mileage as the smaller Fit hatchback, according to Honda.

The hybrid version delivers 30 km per liter, or about 70 mpg, under Japanese test conditions, it said.

Honda is expecting its profit for the fiscal year through next March to plunge 63.5 percent to ¥195 billion from the previous year because of parts shortages and other disaster woes.

The maker of the Civic sedan and Odyssey minivan was battered by the cost of fixing damaged property and equipment, higher raw material costs, the strong yen and research expenses related to future products, such as environmental technology. Honda's global vehicle sales for the current fiscal year are projected to drop 6 percent on year to 3.3 million vehicles.

Honda to hire 1,000 temps
Honda Motor Co. will hire about 1,000 term employees at domestic plants, including in Saitama and Mie prefectures, during the second half of fiscal 2011 to cope with increased production expected from October to March, company sources said Thursday.

Honda is taking the measure because production is recovering from the March 11 catastrophe more quickly than anticipated and is expected to return to near normal by late June, they said.

The automaker will therefore withdraw its earlier plan set in April to gradually reduce the approximately 600 term employees at the plant in Saitama to zero by the end of September.

Honda will renew contracts of term employees if they want to do so, even for those whose employment contracts have already expired, they said.


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