DETROIT – Honda unveils its Accord Coupe concept today at the 2012 North American International Auto Show here that foreshadows the upcoming ninth-generation Accord range, which goes on sale in the U.S. in the fall.

The new model will feature three powertrains, including Honda’s first U.S. direct-injected gasoline engine and a plug-in hybrid system.

Marking the 30th anniversary of U.S. production, the ’13 Accord will raise the bar again, offering a new Honda powertrain and safety technologies geared to ensure that the auto maker and the Accord “continue to lead in fuel economy, safety and fun-to-drive performance,” John Mendel, executive vice president-American Honda, says in a statement.

Honda aims to reclaim ground lost with the new Accord after losing sales when a parts shortage slowed vehicle production following the Japan earthquake and tsunami last March.

Typically the second-best-selling midsize car after the Toyota Camry, the Accord fell to No.4 in 2011, behind the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, WardsAuto data shows.

The next Accord will continue to face stiff competition in 2012 from the new Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu sedans, both of which debuted here yesterday, as well as the Toyota Camry and popular Hyundai-Kia entries.

Honda’s new direct-injection 4-cyl. engine is a 2.4L DOHC unit with the auto maker’s intelligent variable timing and lift technology. It will mate the 181-hp, 2.4L GDI mill to a new continuously variable transmission. The CVT utilizes an innovative G-Design Shift cooperative-control system “for excellent acceleration and responsive shifting,” the auto maker says.

Honda claims class-leading fuel economy for 4-cyl.-equipped ’13 Accords. Ford makes the same assertion at the show, citing non-hybrid class-leading figures of 26/37 mpg (9.0-6.4 L/100 km) city/highway in the ’13 Fusion with a 1.6L EcoBoost 4-cyl. engine.

 Chevy has said its ’13 Malibu mild-hybrid Eco variant will achieve an estimated 25/37 mpg (9.4-6.4 L/100 km) city/highway.

Honda’s new 2-motor plug-in hybrid system has three modes: all-electric, gasoline-electric and direct-drive. The auto maker projects the car’s all-electric range at 10-15 miles (16-24 km) in city driving and top speed of 62 mph (100 km/h).

Recharging times of less than four hours using a 120V outlet, and under 1.5 hours employing a 240V outlet, are expected for the plug-in Accord. The PHEV also uses a 2.0L inline 4-cyl., Atkinson-cycle engine mated to an electric CVT.

Honda says its gasoline-powered ’13 Accord will retain a 3.5L SOHC V-6, but it will be mated to a new 6-speed automatic. The current generation uses a 5-speed automatic. A 6-speed manual transmission continues to be offered on V-6 Accords.

The auto maker will continue using cylinder-deactivation technology on the V-6 models, which should propel the car to class-leading fuel economy, Honda says.

While the Accord 2-door is expected be the same size as the current model, Honda says the 4-door, criticized as too large since the current model’s ’08 debut, will see a “more compact exterior footprint, adding to its sportier appearance.”

Handling also should be improved in the ’13 sedan, owing to a shorter wheelbase and reduced weight, Honda says.

The Accord Coupe concept wears a design language similar to that of the current Accord 2-door and has a 4-sided honeycomb grille. Crystalline chrome inlays ring lower fog lights. It also has 20-in. 5-spoke wheels, a trunk-lid spoiler and large exhaust finishers.

Safety features of the ’13 Accord include Honda’s first lane-departure-warning and forward-crash warning systems. The new model also will be equipped with Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot display technology, which detects cars on the passenger side via a camera that the auto maker claims as an exclusive.

WardsAutodata shows the Accord’s best-ever year was 1990, when 417,179 units were sold.

Last year, the Accord delivered 235,625.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com