More stories related to 2005 NAIAS DETROIT – Leave it to Honda Motor Co. Ltd. to add a few new wrinkles to the all-American pickup.

The ’06 Honda Ridgeline, unveiled here at the North American International Auto Show, offers a number of new features and firsts in the segment, including the first-ever trunk in a pickup.

The Ridgeline’s 5-ft. (1.5-m) bed houses an 8.5-cu.-ft. (2.6 cu.-m) locking storage compartment under the floor to prevent small items from rattling around in the back or to protect them from the elements. The compartment doubles as a cooler, complete with drain plug. A fullsize spare tire is stored in a sliding tray inside the trunk.

Ridgeline features typical Honda innovations.

The truck’s tailgate opens two ways, folding down as on a conventional pickup, but also swinging open like a door. Wheel-well intrusion into the bed is minimal, allowing 4-ft. (1.2-m) wide sheets of plywood to lay flat. The bed features integrated hooks to tie down cargo, wheel slots for transporting motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles and lighting for loading at night.

Inside the cabin, rear seats fold up, allowing enough cargo room to carry a mountain bike.

Honda says the Ridgeline is built on an all-new, fully integrated closed-box frame, 93% of which is not shared with any other vehicle. It is rated to tow 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg), and it can carry loads up to 1,100 lbs. (499 kg).

“This isn’t just a Pilot with a bed,” says American Honda Motor Co. Inc. Executive Vice President Dick Colliver.

The Ridgeline will meet 50-state ultra-low-emissions vehicle requirements, the first pickup to do so, Colliver says. It will offer best-in-class fuel economy – 16/21 mpg city/highway (14.7-11.2 L/100 km), he adds.

Honda says the Ridgeline will compete with the Toyota Tundra, Ford Explorer Sport Trac and Chevrolet Avalanche, among other pickups.

Sales are projected at 50,000 units in the first year, and Colliver says the Ridgeline will conquest truck and SUV buyers from both import and domestic brands, as well as keep customers who previously may have left Honda in order to purchase a pickup.

The Ridgeline is in production at Honda’s Alliston, Ont., Canada, assembly plant, but Colliver does not rule out additional output at other facilities – such as its Lincoln, AL, plant – if necessary to meet demand.

The Ridgeline is powered by a 255-hp, 3.5L single-overhead-cam V-6 with Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing. It delivers 252 lb.-ft. (342 Nm) of torque through a 5-speed automatic transmission, with 70% of the power transported to the rear wheels through Honda’s Variable Torque Management 4-wheel-drive system.

The truck measures 122.0 ins. (310 cm) in wheelbase and 206.8 ins. (525 cm) in overall length. Curb weight is 4,552 lbs. (2,065 kg).

Pricing has not been set, but Honda puts the range at $27,000-$32,000, with three trim levels, RT, RT-S and RT-L. Among standard equipment are antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, stability assist with traction control and side curtain airbags.

The ’06 Ridgeline is slated to hit Honda dealers in the U.S. in March.

Colliver says there are no plans for additional versions of the Ridgeline, such as a 2-door. And Honda will not produce an Acura version of the pickup. “We’re moving Acura in a different direction,” he says.

dzoia@primediabusiness.com