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Honda enters the small Truck market

   The Toyota Tacoma has become the standard for small pick up trucks. This did not happen overnight. When Toyota began taking importing trucks seriously to the United States in 1975 with the SR-5 Sports Truck, Japanese trucks were much cheaper then their American made counterparts. The United States felt the Japanese had an unfair advantage and set the tariff on trucks at 25% compared to 2.5% for cars. Since then, the success of the SUV market has made trucks seem more practical and upscale then before. 30 years ago people who owned pickup trucks did so for work. Honda recognized that pickup trucks were a natural extension of  SUV’s, both of which have become the obvious choice for guys who need lots of cargo room for hauling kids and groceries but cringe at the idea of buying a minivan. The Irony of this is that the Toyota 4Runner was actually an extension of a pickup truck. The early 4Runners actually were merely a plastic body placed over the bed of the truck, on these early models getting in the back seat was about as easy as getting into the backseat of a four door car without opening any doors.

   Honda decision to enter the truck market was similar to their decision to enter the luxury car market a few years ago. They know Honda customers are among the most loyal and brand aware customers on the planet. When they started building Acura’s the idea was to not lose these great Honda customers to BMW, Audi or Mercedes. With the truck market Honda’s fear was, an Accord owner would buy a Tacoma for need of a truck and then love it so much that when they were ready for a new sedan they would go with a Lexus.

   Honda’s first attempt at a truck can’t be considered an attempt at all. This is because Honda knew they could pull this vehicle together without a hitch. The Ridgeline is built on the same platform as the Honda Pilot which gives this vehicle an incredible car like ride while still being able to pick up a stack of plywood from the lumber yard. There is even a hidden trunk under the cargo bed’s floor equipped with a drain so it can be used as a cooler during those really big tailgate parties. The tailgate opens both like a tailgate and like a door. What makes this car a good value is its 4500 lb weight. That is a whole lot of Honda for $30,000. This is a truck that should hold its resale value better then almost anything on the road because it is a 2006 model out in July 2005 and Honda will probably raise its price by at least $2,000 for 2007. The Ridgeline is only available configured as a 5 passenger, 4 door, 4 wheel drive vehicle.

    The only real question for Honda is weather this vehicle will be perceived as a cool addition to the Honda line or a misfit like the Subaru Baja. The Subaru Baja when it first came out had two seats in the bed mounted rear facing. The question for Subaru was always who were those seats suppose to be for? Honda won’t know the answer for a couple of months as to who will be buying the Ridgeline, but make no doubt that Honda did have somebody in mind when they starting building this truck.

 The reality is that trucks come in really handy when you have big things to haul. For example; it is impossible to fit a mattress set larger then a twin in the back of a Toyota Landcruiser. That is why Honda went to every effort to make it possible to tie down large items by having several places to tie down factory installed. They also made sure a standard piece of plywood measuring 4ft by 8ft could be laid flat in the back of the Ridgeline. The advantage of small pickup trucks is that when you’re not hauling cargo they are still easy to drive. Cargo vans can haul a lot too, but they clearly fall into that category of work vehicles. The Ridgeline by choosing to come only as a 5 passenger vehicle means that nobody ever has to ride in the back.

   I suspect that that the true market for the Ridgeline will be people who already own SUV’s, like the people who bought small SUV’s and then discovered that occasionally a SUV is not the right vehicle for the job. Plus SUV owners will recognize that the trunk is a huge feature, it lets you stow stuff away so that people who look into your vehicle won’t see those stowed items and people who are in your vehicle can’t get to them either. For example you may not want to leave your camera bag on the seat when you go catch a movie and you may want to stash some goodies away so you still have them when you actually arrive at your camp site.

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