American Honda Motor Co.'s Honda division expects to sell 1,025,000 units for calendar year 2001, breaking its previous calendar-year record of 1,016,197 set in 2000.

The forecast is consistent with performances dating back to 1997 when Honda sales totals began a steady climb, says American Honda Motor Co.'s Dan Bonawitz, vice president-corporate planning and logistics.

Despite the downturn that has eviscerated most automakers since last year's all-time industry-wide sales record, Honda has maintained momentum, Mr. Bonawitz says. Its drivers have been Honda Accord and Civic.

But the automaker isn't resting on its laurels, Mr. Bonawitz adds. While there are no firm plans to bring Honda's five-door Civic to North America, it is under consideration.

Already available in Europe, the car would enter a growing market already served by Ford's ZX5. Meanwhile, in 2002, the five-door market will expand with the introductions of Mazda Protege5, Toyota Matrix and Saturn VUE - although they have been likened to crossover vehicles.

Speaking at the North American debut of the '02 Civic Si — an updated version of Honda's previous high-performance three-doors and the fifth in a series of Si releases that began in 1986 — Mr. Bonawitz notes:

  • A “minor model change” for the '02 Odyssey minivan.

  • The spring debut of Honda's second gas-electric hybrid; joining Honda Insight — deemed America's most fuel-efficient car for three consecutive years by the Environmental Protection Admin. (EPA) — the new vehicle is a hybrid-powered Civic sedan.

In addition, Mr. Bonawitz confirms the 2003 debut of a sport utility vehicle (SUV). He is tight-lipped, but a source confirms it will be a sister to Acura's highly acclaimed MDX.

Expect the new SUV to be assembled at Honda's plant in Alliston, Ont., the source suggests.

Honda is adopting a wait-and-see approach to its Civic Si production for North America, says Mr. Bonawitz.

The high-performance model not only marks the return of Civic's hatchback incarnation, it will be the only Civic hatchback available in North America. And priced between $18,000 and $19,000, preliminary expectations suggest the automaker will have little difficulty selling the 18,000 units it has scheduled — 15,000 of which are destined for the U.S. The remaining 3,000 will be sold in Canada.

Mr. Bonawitz says there is “some wiggle room” to squeeze more Si production.

“We will monitor day by day,” Mr. Bonawitz says of sales that officially begin in March when the '02 Si is expected to arrive in North American showrooms. Maintaining the exclusivity required to enhance Si's racy image is a key consideration for the automaker, he adds.

Honda's fifth-generation Si product, '02 Civic Si replaces the Civic Si coupe which bowed in 1999 and was built for two years. Honda had no '01 model year Si product.

Honda is targeting young, single, well-educated males with Si and expects the majority of sales to occur in warm weather climes. Honda sees as its competition: Ford SVT Focus, Volkswagen GTI, Toyota Celica GTS, Mini Cooper and Dodge Neon R/T.

Meanwhile, Honda hopes to get its new Alabama plant producing Odyssey minivans this month, a half-year ahead of schedule, says Honda President Hiroyuki Yoshino.

The decision to move up the start of production is based on customer demand.

“We were not comfortable making the customer wait so long,” Mr. Yoshino says.