Monday, January 26, 2015

Honda's Recipe For Success With The Ridgeline

It can be said that Honda has the Midas golden touch in America. Its core products are nearly always perennial sales leaders in their respective classes yet they are also often named as the choice for the enthusiast on a budget. The brand rarely strikes out on a product with the Insight and the CR-Z as the only lackluster products unbecoming of the brand's portfolio. Honda immediately fixed up its latest Civic when it arrived to a poor critical reception. For all of its success Honda however is a stubborn brand often unwilling to join the masses and preferring to go its own way infamously eschewing V8s and body-on-frame trucks. The Ridgeline's lackluster sales can certainly be attributed to its unique unibody design and Honda's complete reluctance to update the model. There is some method to Honda's madness with the Ridgeline as it is probably harder for an "import" brand to succeed in the pickup segment than it is for a domestic brand in the compact and midsize sedan segments*. In both cases the factors at play go far beyond just the quality of the product. Honda found out the hard way what it is like to lure full size and lifestyle buyers with a mid size sized unibody truck with full size ambitions. Nevertheless Honda isn't giving up as it is all but ready to unveil its long overdue second generation Ridgeline at the Chicago autoshow. Here is a recipe that Honda must follow to make the second generation worthwhile.

  • Aesthetics: From its silhouette teaser it looks like Honda is giving the Ridgeline conventional pickup styling and bed albeit with a car like hood. The Ridgeline's unique design was quite off-putting to many as Honda tried to hard to give it character. Pickups are supposed to be bold but in this case Honda is probably better off sticking to convention.
  • Towing: Honda has to give the Ridgeline a respectable towing number. Towing one-upmanship is where the battle is fought for ultimate bragging rights. The Ridgeline's 5,000 pound towing figure is pathetic. A unibody setup is not ideal for towing but it's a myth that it can't as SUV's such as the Mercedes GL, Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg are all rated to tow 7,500 pounds or more. Matching that number will still place the Ridgeline behind full size pickups but ahead of most mid size competition.
  • Power: Likewise Honda has to give the Ridgeline some horsepower to play with. In a world where the Chevy Colorado offers 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, the current 250/253 Pilot setup won't cut it. A turbo V6 setup would be ideal but it's wishful thinking at this point as Honda is just discovering what turbos are. Reaching into Acura's past and bringing back the old MDX 3.7 liter V6 would be a wise decision good for 300 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. In reality the 3.5 Earthdreams V6 will likely be the powerplant of choice with not much more than 270 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque placing the Ridgeline in a hole to start out. A six speed auto is a given but the competition is moving on up to 8 and beyond.
  • Fuel Economy: Gas is cheap once again but pickup fuel economy has become a bragging rights arena over the past few years. The Ridgeline will absolutely need to match or exceed the rear wheel drive benchmark numbers from the full size category. Sure it will have standard all wheel drive but no one is buying a front wheel drive pickup and you can't explain in a 30 second ad that the numbers Ford, Chevy and Ram are bragging about aren't quite comparable. EPA figures of 18/26 are a must to hit for Honda and are quite achievable given that the Ridgeline shouldn't be too far off behind the Pilot. In turn there is no reason why the Pilot should do any worse than MDX's impressive 18/27 rating and perhaps better it with more development and a simpler all wheel drive system. 

*Toyota is continuing to compete directly with its Tundra but Nissan is acknowledging it can't compete directly. Enter the Titan XD, a unique pickup that is almost in between half tons and HD models with a standard diesel V8. Call it the 200/2000 model to give it a chance against the established makes.

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