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by Tim Beissmann

Honda Australia says it has drawn a line in the sand in 2012 as it embarks on an ambitious rebuilding process to return the company to its former heights.

Speaking at the launch of the ninth-generation Honda Civic in Melbourne on Tuesday, Honda Australia director Stephen Collins says the embattled Japanese brand has set its sights on boosting sales by more than 30 per cent in 2012 as vehicle supply normalises and three core volume models hit showrooms.

“Today marks a new beginning for our recovery and our rebuilding for the future in the Australian market,” Collins said. “We see all-new Civic as our line in the sand. 2012 is a year of rebuilding for Honda, rebuilding with great products, value-for-money positioning to our customers, and also well-targeted communications.

He said Honda planned to sell 40,000 new cars in Australia in 2012 to get the company “back on track” and “back on shopping lists of new-car buyers in Australia”.

Last year was a low point for Honda Australia. Just 30,107 cars were sold, down more than 10,000 units from the previous year. The result was impacted significantly by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March and especially the Thailand floods, which forced months of production stoppages and consequently crippled Honda’s ability to deliver cars to customers.

But Honda’s slide down the sales charts started long before Mother Nature’s untimely interruption. Just five years ago in 2007, Honda sold 60,529 cars in Australia, making it the sixth-highest-selling brand in the country. Subsequent years saw it slip to 52,571 in 2008, then 41,443 in 2010. Last year, sales were more than 50 per cent down on 2007’s record, and Honda fell to 10th on the overall sales charts.

Collins says the brand’s first quarter has been “heavily impacted” by a lack of supply from Thailand, with the plant not set to return to full production until April.

With that in mind, Honda Australia has focused its attention on the Japan sourced Accord Euro and Odyssey so far this year, and both led their segments in terms of private sales in January. The Jazz Vibe – sourced from Japan until normal Thai Jazz production resumes – has attracted 900 orders since mid January, with deliveries taking place from this week.

The second quarter will see improved supply from Thailand. Honda expects to average 3500 sales a month throughout Q2 as the Civic sedan enters full swing.

Production of the Civic sedan is set to move back from Japan to Thailand around the middle of the year, and the shift will see satellite navigation become available in the range. Collins said other changes would be minimal, with prices and specifications set to remain largely unchanged.

The third quarter should see business return to normal for Honda. The all-new UK-source Civic hatchback will arrive in showrooms in July, promising a lower starting pricing in the mid-$20,000s and an expanded line-up, which Collins says will help it  “really take up the fight in the growing small hatch segment”. A 104kW 1.8-litre petrol engine will be offered initially, with an all-new, highly efficient 88kW/360Nm 1.6-litre diesel scheduled to join the range in the first quarter of 2013. Honda expects to sell 1000 Civic sedans and 500 hatches each month.

Fans of the Civic Type R will be disappointed, however, with Collins confirming he was aware of no plans for a successor to the hot hatch. While no replacement for the Type R, he described the standard Civic hatch as “inherently sporty”, and admitted the brand’s sports focus had shifted to other models.

“In terms of sportiness we’re certainly focusing at the moment on CR-Z … We really see that in the short term as more of a halo.

“Obviously in the US at Detroit the Acura NSX was shown in its concept form which is a pretty awesome thing, so that would be pretty high on our wish list in the long-term future.”

The third quarter will also see the third-generation CR-V officially enter run-out mode ahead of the launch of the new gen-four soft-roader in the final quarter of 2012.

For the first time, the new Honda CR-V will be available with a cheaper front-wheel-drive entry-level variant, sitting beneath the traditional all-wheel drive models. A petrol engine will be available initially, with a diesel engine slated to join the line-up later in 2013.

“[CR-V] has been a highly successful model for us, and we are in no doubt the all-new CR-V towards the end of the year will be absolutely no exception,” Collins said.

If all goes according to plan, Collins says Honda will be delivering 4000 cars per month by the end of the year. While it may sound like a hard ask, he describes the current situation – moving from recovery to rebuilding and into growth mode – as “a really exciting time for Honda”.