Special Coverage

SAE World Congress

DETROIT – Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s U.S sales in April are stable, yet still soft, but a rebound will come this summer, CEO Takeo Fukui predicts.

Following a 2009 SAE World Congress banquet here, Fukui says the Japan-based auto maker is on track to reach an 80% local production rate for vehicles sold in the U.S.

“In the late 1990s, I was based at Honda of America Mfg. (Inc.) in Ohio, and I believe the localization of our operations in the U.S. was good for America,” he says. “Therefore, we will continue to advance the localization in each area of our business – research and development operations, production activities, sales operations and export sales from the U.S.”

Fukui says he expects to have the auto maker’s U.S. inventory in line by June, which has swelled due to the market’s falling demand. At the end of March, Honda of America had a 92 days’ supply, according to Ward’s data, and Fukui says he wants to cut the number to 60 days’ supply.

Fukui also says there are no plans to build the Insight hybrid-electric vehicle in the U.S.

When questioned about a possible General Motors Corp. or Chrysler LLC bankruptcy, he declines to comment directly but says competition is healthy for the industry. “We need every company to compete to get good mobility for the global society.”

Despite the massive downturn in the U.S., Fukui expects the industry to emerge strong. “The U.S. is still the most important market.” It’s “potential is huge.”

Looking at the bigger picture, Fukui would like to see the adoption of a global standard to regulate vehicle emissions.

“We must create green mobility, and we should look at this as a chance for engineers to perform,” he says. “Now is the time when our ability to develop new technology has the greatest value to society.”

bpope@wardsauto.com