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 spicing up their compact and subcompact lineups in the United States, with Toyota Motor Corp’s Furia concept car hinting at more aggressive styling for the 2014 Corolla and Honda Motor Co. taking subcompact cars to the next level with its Fit-based SUV.

Toyota, Japan’s biggest automaker, gave a glimpse of what the new Corolla, likely to go on sale later this year, could look like when it unveiled the Furia concept sedan this week at the Detroit auto show.

The orange Furia has an aggressive front face with sharply angled headlights and a low center of gravity, design features that already have been applied to some recent models like the Avalon and the Auris hatchback and could help attract younger buyers.

"It’s only a concept, but the Furia sends a clear message where we are going in the future. Not only is the styling more expressive, but also reflect our overall approach to the compact segment in every way," Bill Fay, the group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division at Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., said on Monday.

The Corolla is Toyota’s top-selling model globally and the second most-popular Toyota vehicle in the United States after the Camry. Toyota sold 290,947 Corollas in the United States in 2012, up 21 percent from a year earlier.

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

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

Japan’s third-biggest automaker, Honda aims to sell 6 million vehicles globally by March 2017, a jump from the current 4 million, and is set to start selling the remodeled Fit by late 2013 in Japan.

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

"The path that cars should take in the future cannot be discussed without the development of small cars, and this is not just for Honda."

The Fit-based SUV, which will be manufactured in Honda’s new Celaya plant in Mexico as well as in Japan and Asia, is set to go on sale in Japan later this year and in the United States in 2014.

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

The Versa Note, which is a hatchback companion to the Versa sedan, is set to go on sale in the United States in the summer with a starting price of $13,990. Nissan sold 113,327 Versa vehicles in 2012 in the U.S. market, up 14 percent from a year earlier. 

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