Honda sets new sales record

Honda — a major employer in Ohio and the region — cruised to a new sales record in 2015 as experts said the auto industry overall benefited from low interest rates and an improving economy.

Combined Honda and Acura met an all-time record of more than 1.58 million vehicles sold in 2015, a 3-percent increase over the previous year. That also beat the company’s previous record set in 2007.

About 1,400 Clark and Champaign County residents work for the automaker and it employs about 13,000 Ohioans overall.

“While we are excited about the all-time sales record, we continue to have incredible momentum driven by the relentless cadence of new and successful products we introduced in 2015 that will give the Honda brand tremendous energy going into the new year,” said Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of the Honda Division in a statement.

Honda followed a national trend in which the industry hit record marks of 17.5 million cars and trucks sold last year, edging past the previous record of 17.35 million set in 2000.

Honda’s North American auto plants produce 11 different models, including five passenger cars and six light trucks, and are able to make 1.92 million vehicles annually.

Several manufacturers that supply parts to Honda also have benefited from the increased sales. Parker Trutec in Springfield and KTH Parts Industries in St. Paris have announced significant expansions in the past two years.

Although Honda’s and Acura’s combined sales were up 3 percent compared to 2014, that figure trailed the industry overall, which saw gains of 5.7 percent, said Tom Libby, an analyst for IHS Automotive. The Honda Division saw sales increase by 2.6 percent, while the company’s Acura Division saw an increase of about 5.6 percent.

“They still did very well but they under-performed in the industry,” Libby said. “One of the main reasons is that Honda does not participate in some of the categories that have done well and one of them is large pickups. They just don’t have an entry there and that has hurt them.”

However, Libby also said models like Honda’s Civic, Accord, Odyssey and Pilot have consistently performed at or near the top of their categories compared to competitors.

Honda also produces the HR-V, a sub-compact crossover that faces little competition, Libby said. Automakers like Toyota and Nissan don’t yet have models that compete with the HR-V.

“They’re leading in that area and that’s benefited them terrifically in 2015,” Libby said.

Last year was one of the best in recent memory at the Bill Marine Auto Center Honda dealership in Springfield, said Pascal Chevrette, general sales manager for the dealership. Civics and CR-Vs were among the dealer’s most popular models, he said, and 2016 is expected to be another big year.

“It’s early to make accurate predictions, but we’re anticipating another growth year in 2016,” Chevrette said.

The industry has continued to benefit from historically low interest rates, low unemployment and a slowly improving economy, Libby said. Although the Great Recession ended several years ago, many analysts also believe pent up demand still exists among buyers who held off on new purchases.

Low fuel prices are helpful, Libby said, but that hasn’t necessarily led to higher sales. Instead it has a greater impact on the kinds of vehicles drivers buy, he said, and dealers have sold more SUVs and crossover models, as well as pickup trucks.

Most analysts expect the trend to continue for at least the next two years, with projected sales of 17.8 million this year and more than 18 million vehicles in 2017.

“These are extraordinary numbers,” Libby said. “These will break records both years.”

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