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another crossover review...
Honda's CR-V SUV Targets Moms, Gets Sales Boost
By Doron Levin
May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Honda's CR-V sport-utility vehicle looks a little bit like the Mercedes R-Class, also a crossover SUV though twice as expensive at even its base price of $43,000.
They're both part of the U.S. vehicle market's hottest -- also coolest -- trend. As crossovers, both SUVs are built on a car chassis, not the traditional truck-based frame. Crossovers now are made in every size and price category.
Lighter and more efficient, crossovers deflect the negative views of those who claim SUVs are a blight on the environment. These SUVs allow mothers to drive the kids to soccer practice without suffering guilt pangs or the sort of nasty stares they got on arriving with offspring in Hummers or other behemoths.
Sure, Honda Motor *** two previous generations of crossover SUVs were practical and economical. They addressed the need for multipurpose vehicles filled by SUVs, station wagons and minivans. These lighter SUVs compared favorably against bigger gas-thirsty competitors like Ford Motor Co. Explorers or Toyota Motor Corp.'s Landcruiser.
Still, the earlier Honda CR-Vs didn't win many prizes for looks. The new one, with a base price of $21,000, ``has been redesigned to look more like a car than a kitchen appliance,'' says Reilly Brennan, editor of Winding Road, an online automotive magazine.
With a redesigned interior and a comelier body, Honda's new CR-V has become the most popular SUV in the U.S. It now outsells larger and more heavily promoted truck-based models like the Explorer, a onetime sales champ, as well as Toyota's RAV4, a popular, highly rated crossover and Honda's keenest rival.
Through the first four months of 2007, Honda sold 64,951 CR- Vs. The 41 percent increase from a year ago enabled Honda to overtake the Ford Escape SUV, whose sales fell 8.2 percent to 47,533. Toyota's RAV4 sales rose 17 percent, to 55,900 from last year's 47,798.
By contrast, General Motors Corp.'s sales of its most popular SUV crossover, the Chevrolet Equinox, dropped 14.7 percent to 30,009 through April 30.
With the average U.S. gasoline price at more than $3 a gallon, the highest in 21 months, shoppers for multipurpose vehicles clearly are making fuel efficiency a top priority.
Honda's CR-V and Toyota's RAV4 both boast a 30 miles-per- gallon highway efficiency rating, with the RAV4's 24 mpg rating for city driving just shading the CR-V's 23 mpg. (Truck-based SUVs like the Explorer can claim city ratings of 15 mpg and 21 mpg for highways.)
The four-cylinder CR-V, which seats five, first appeared in 1997. It shared many parts and components with the Honda Civic small car. (CR-V, by the way, stands for ``Comfortable Runabout Vehicle.)
Honda's current CR-V, slightly larger than the original model, is still a fuel-efficient four-cylinder model. Toyota, the No. 1 Japanese automaker, lengthened its RAV4 (for Recreational Active Vehicle) and offers an optional V6 engine and a third row of seats.
Honda instead decided to target its small CR-V crossovers particularly to young mothers, a sizable market. The SUV now has a more stylish profile and features a sunglass holder above the visor. It also has a parabolic mirror that lets moms see -- if they dare look -- what the kids are up to in the back seat.
``Young moms were rejecting the earlier model because it lacked emotion,'' said Christina Ra, a senior product planner for Honda. ``It wasn't offensive, it just wasn't winning their hearts.''
Competitors such as DaimlerChrysler AG's Jeep try to win buyers by stressing the toughness and ruggedness of their models. Those features clearly aren't winning moms' hearts.
Honda is known for the solid engineering that helped it become the No. 2 Japanese automaker. One of its less obvious strengths is new-model research into what drivers value, then meeting those needs. Adding a V6 engine and a third row of seats (as Toyota did) might seem a quick way to boost sales. Honda thought otherwise, a decision borne out by a bigger jump in CR-V sales.
With 9.2 percent overall market share in the U.S., up from 8.8 percent a year ago, Honda found a payoff in its obsession over fuel efficiency. The automaker refuses to be drawn into a contest for speed and power: Honda is alone among major competitors in declining to build a V8 engine. Unlike Toyota's RAV4, Honda's CR-V doesn't offer a V6 option either.
High gasoline prices are a big reason for the CR-V's growing dominance in the U.S. Mercedes may yet feel Honda's sting across the Atlantic as the CR-V lures drivers in Europe, where gasoline costs are even higher.
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