Toyota, Honda up the ante on small cars for U.S. buyers

Toyota's Corolla Furia concept vehicle is displayed after Toyota's Corolla Furia concept vehicle is displayed after being unveiled during the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. (Jan. 14, 2013) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

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DETROIT - Japanese automakers are spicingup their compact and subcompact lineups in the United States,with Toyota Motor Corps Furia concept car hinting atmore aggressive styling for the 2014 Corolla and Honda Motor Co.taking subcompact cars to the next level with itsFit-based SUV.

Toyota, Japans biggest automaker, gave a glimpse of whatthe new Corolla, likely to go on sale later this year, couldlook like when it unveiled the Furia concept sedan this week atthe Detroit auto show.

The orange Furia has an aggressive front face with sharplyangled headlights and a low center of gravity, design featuresthat already have been applied to some recent models like theAvalon and the Auris hatchback and could help attract youngerbuyers.

"Its only a concept, but the Furia sends a clear messagewhere we are going in the future. Not only is the styling moreexpressive, but also reflect our overall approach to the compactsegment in every way," Bill Fay, the group vice president andgeneral manager of the Toyota Division at Toyota Motor Sales,U.S.A., said on Monday.

The Corolla is Toyotas top-selling model globally and thesecond most-popular Toyota vehicle in the United States afterthe Camry. Toyota sold 290,947 Corollas in the United States in2012, up 21 percent from a year earlier.

Honda unveiled a concept urban SUV that will share platformswith the Fit subcompact car.

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Honda has been vocal in its emphasis on small cars, aimingto secure a quarter of its global sales with the Fit series bythe financial year ending March 2017. The Fit is also known asthe Jazz.

Japans third-biggest automaker, Honda aims to sell 6million vehicles globally by March 2017, a jump from the current4 million, and is set to start selling the remodeled Fit by late2013 in Japan.

"There is no doubt that increasing fuel efficiency andmaking cars smaller to cut materials and energy used to buildthem is a trend in the auto industry," Honda Chief ExecutiveTakanobu Ito told reporters on Monday.

"The path that cars should take in the future cannot bediscussed without the development of small cars, and this is notjust for Honda."

The Fit-based SUV, which will be manufactured in Hondas newCelaya plant in Mexico as well as in Japan and Asia, is set togo on sale in Japan later this year and in the United States in2014.

Nissan Motor Co, Japans second-biggest automaker,presented the Versa Note compact at the Detroit show on Tuesday.

The Versa Note, which is a hatchback companion to the Versasedan, is set to go on sale in the United States in the summerwith a starting price of $13,990. Nissan sold 113,327 Versavehicles in 2012 in the U.S. market, up 14 percent from a yearearlier.

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