After years of denying a pickup is in the works, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. displays its SUT concept Sunday here at the North American International Auto Show.
Honda unveils SUT Concept in Detroit.

The vehicle technically is not a truck, as it sports a unibody construction and will be built on the same platform that supports the Odyssey minivan and Pilot cross/utility vehicle.

But everything about the SUT concept looks more like a pickup than Honda officials previously had indicated. And officials say the concept doesn’t fall too wide of the production mark.

Honda’s sixth light-truck model is due to market in 2005, as both the auto maker and the pickup segment achieve unprecedented popularity.

Honda also is becoming increasingly American, with an equal number of vehicles sold and built in the U.S. market, and a third of its vehicles designed and engineered here as well.

The auto maker is ending the year with sales of 1.35 million units – its eighth-straight annual sales increase.

Whereas 10 years ago, Honda did not sell any light trucks in the U.S. market, its SUVs and minivans now comprise 500,000 units of annual sales. Honda sources indicate the SUT to contribute somewhere in the neighborhood of an additional 60,000 units to the auto maker’s truck tally.

Honda believes the timing is right because pickup trucks increasingly are attracting typical Honda customers.

“Today’s trucks reflect a growing diversity in the way trucks are being used and viewed by American consumers, many of whom are looking at trucks not as work vehicles but, instead, as products to support their active lifestyles,” says Tom Elliott, executive vice president-American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

Honda’s SUT concept sports a billet-machined aluminum design theme. The lower half incorporates a “frame” look, although it’s a unibody. And the front sports a blunter, more upright version of the Pilot grille. The inside continues to carry a modern technological look, while incorporating seating for five.

The SUT is powered by Honda’s 3.5L all-aluminum V-6 engine, which Honda says will be tuned for high-output, coupled with an advanced, electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system. The target consumer is what Honda calls the “cool dad.”

After the production version of the SUT bows at next year’s North American International Auto Show, it will be assembled at Honda’s Alliston, Ont., Canada, plant. All Odyssey production at that point will shift to Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln, AL, when the Odyssey is due for a complete redesign.

Also that year, some Pilot production will be shifted from Honda’s Alliston plant to a newly constructed line at its Alabama plant. The shift in production is a result of and also contributes to Honda’s production flexibility, officials say.

kzachary@primediabusiness.com