'Butching up' the 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Honda has announced a number accessories for the Ridgeline at the Chicago Auto Show: black roof rails, cross bars, running boards, and fender flares; a skid plate; a hard tonneau cover; special 18-inch wheels with all-terrain tires; and a towing kit. Most of these items are to be expected, while a few others raise an eyebrow.

It appears that Honda is testing the waters to see if there is an audience for a “butched up” Ridgeline. The skid plate, fender flares, and all-terrain tires all move it a step in that direction visually. I’m not absolutely certain, but I don’t think these accessories, which have a slight nod towards off-roading, have been offered by Honda in the past. Perhaps an informed reader can clarify that? There’s been no word yet as to whether the tire size is larger, but looking at the image, it appears the tire may have a slightly taller sidewall. I believe the factory 18-inch tire offered is a 265/60, so this may be a 265/65 tire. Again, someone at the Chicago show could clarify this.

As tepid as this may seem, it’s a start. That’s the good news. If these items prove successful, they may just push Honda enough to offer a beefed up trim level. Fingers crossed.

This concludes my series of Ridgeline reports. I’m hoping to be at the New York Auto Show in March, and the Ridgeline is on my list of vehicles to crawl all over. If I learn of anything new, you can be assured I will report it here.

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1455309618 519405700 c 570 411 'Butching up' the 2017 Honda Ridgeline

1455309619 openroad 'Butching up' the 2017 Honda RidgelineThis post comes from Autoblog Open Road, our contributor network. Visit Open Road for more opinion, insight, advice, and experiential writing from our readers and industry insiders. We’re always looking for new viewpoints. If you’d like to be a part, sign up today.

Does the 2017 Honda Ridgeline have street cred?

From a sales standpoint, the gen-one Ridgeline was an utter failure. It had a very narrow appeal, that being the suburban Harry Homeowner crowd. Traditional truckers hated it; no, make that HATED it!

They hated it as much for what it was as for what it represented. It was assumed to be soft, a mommy truck; and to their eyes, it was ugly as sin. “Real” truckers would not accept the independent rear suspension, yet seemed ignorant about the fact that our military has been using IRS on severe-duty trucks for years. If IRS is good enough for the combat conditions, using it on a light-duty civilian pickup truck should be a piece of cake, no?

I think there’s also another issue at play here: classism. I suspect that many truckers didn’t like those who were buying these trucks. Ridgeline buyers tend to be college-educated, suburban, and earn enough to have a decent if not better-than-average lifestyle. Many were schoolteachers, accountants, doctors, and lawyers – professionals. In short they weren’t blue-collar, hard working, struggling-to-make-a-living truck guys. That didn’t sit well with many. It was like their “space” was being invaded, maybe even their lifestyle was being threatened. I can’t tell you how many derogatory comments I’ve read from traditional truckers over the last decade directed against Ridgeline owners. Many centered around a lack of masculinity of Ridgeline owners, or that that they were bought by people who didn’t “need” a truck, that a minivan would have been a better choice. Many were owners of big diesel pickups who felt compelled to compare their heavy-duty trucks to this smaller mid-size truck. You get the picture.

So here we are with the gen-two Ridgeline. Has Honda rectified its image as a truck maker? Yes and no.

Yes in that the truck has shed its polarizing looks. In fact I think it’s quite handsome, and will have a vastly broader appeal as such. Yes in the fact that it’s been brought up to date mechanically, and the technology is vastly superior to the old model. Yes in fact that it should prove to be more economical than the old truck. Yes in the fact that it’s more powerful, and that the AWD is vastly superior to what was offered before. Yes in the fact that it should function better, both as a truck and as a family vehicle.

No in the fact that it will still be viewed as a “girlie truck” by many. No in the fact that there is no “macho” trim level available. No in the fact that it’s still engineered only for medium-duty off-road work. No in the fact that towing is still limited to 5,000 pounds, many mid-size trucks are rated for substantially more.

Honda has a real opportunity here – should it choose to use it. There’s no question that Honda has to secure and expand its customer base first. This truck does that. That said Honda is in a position unlike that of any other truck maker here in the United States. Unlike Ford, Chevy, GMC, Nissan, and Toyota, Honda does not have a larger full-size truck that creates a “ceiling” for its smaller mid-size entries.

None of the above-mentioned brands will offer a mid-size truck here that will step on the toes of their bigger full-size trucks in terms of capability. That means no heavy-duty mid-size trucks will be sold here. They’re offered in other markets, where their full-size models are not sold, but not here.

Honda does not have that problem. It could easily offer a heavy-duty version of the Ridgeline, should it decide to. I’m thinking of a truck with a metric-ton payload (~2,200 pounds, or roughly 600 pounds more than the current Ridgeline payload), a two-speed transfer case, a standard full-size spare tire, tow hooks, and underbody protection. Offer it in both crew cab and regular cab with an eight-foot bed. I think there’s a market for such a truck, and we have more than enough conventional gargantuan heavy-duty trucks. It’s time for some new (and smarter) thinking here.

…And, voilà! instant street cred!

1455259060 openroad Does the 2017 Honda Ridgeline have street cred?This post comes from Autoblog Open Road, our contributor network. Visit Open Road for more opinion, insight, advice, and experiential writing from our readers and industry insiders. We’re always looking for new viewpoints. If you’d like to be a part, sign up today.

Japan could consolidate to three automakers by 2020

Sergio Marchionne might see his dream of big mergers in the auto industry become a reality, and an analyst thinks Japan is a likely place for consolidation to happen. Takaki Nakanishi from Jefferies Group LLC tells Bloomberg the country’s car market could combine to just three or fewer major players by 2020, from seven today.

“To have one or two carmakers in a country is not only natural, but also helpful to their competitiveness,” Nakanishi told Bloomberg. “Japan has just too many and the resources have been too spread out. It’s a natural trend to consolidate and reduce some of the wasted resources.”

Nakanishi’s argument echoes Marchionne’s reasons to push for a merger between FCA and General Motors. Automakers spend billions on research and development, but their competitors also invest money to create the same solutions. Consolidating could conceivably put that R&D money into new avenues.

“In today’s global marketplace, it is increasingly difficult for automakers to compete in lower volume segments like sports cars, hydrogen fuel cells, or electrified vehicles on their own,” Ed Kim, vice president of Industry Analysis at AutoPacific, told Autoblog. Even without mergers, these are the areas where Japanese automakers already have partners for development. Kim cited examples like Toyota and Subaru’s work on the BRZ and FR-S and its collaboration with BMW on a forthcoming sports car. Honda and GM have also reportedly deepened their cooperation on green car tech.

After Toyota’s recent buyout of previous partner Daihatsu, Nakanishi agrees with rumors that the automotive giant could next pursue Suzuki. He sees them like a courting couple. “For Suzuki, it’s like they’re just starting to exchange diaries and have yet to hold hands. When Toyota’s starts to hold 5 percent of Suzuki’s shares, this will be like finally touching fingertips,” Nakanishi told Bloomberg.

“I absolutely do believe that we are not finished seeing consolidation in Japan,” Kim told Autoblog. Rising development costs to meet tougher emissions regulations make it hard for minor players in the market to remain competitive. “The smaller automakers like Suzuki, Mazda, and Mitsubishi are challenged to make it on their own in the global marketplace. Consolidation for them may be inevitable.”

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