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NAIAS 2006: Honda Ridgeline Wins N.A.Truck of the Year
By: Mike Magda Posted: 01-08-06 14:47 ET
© 2006 PickupTruck.com

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With the Honda Ridgeline a runaway vote-getter in the 2006 North American Truck of the Year balloting, officials are hinting production goals for the unibody style pickup will increase.

Despite polarizing reviews from the media, the Ridgeline earned the top honor with 296 votes, compared to 120 for the Nissan Xterra and 119 for the Ford Explorer. The highest possible vote total is 490, as there are 49 jurors representing the automotive media. Each is given 25 points but no more than 10 points can be given to a single vehicle. Honda also won Car of the Year with the redesigned Civic, marking the first time any manufacturer has swept the awards.

“The light truck segment has been one to present more of the same year after year,” said Jacques Duval of Le Guide de l’auto. “Honda steps up and redefines the genre with what has to be the most innovative vehicle in a long time.”

“It requires holding one’s nose to assign top points to the Honda Ridgeline because it is so wretchedly ugly, supplanting the Pontiac Aztek as the standard for bad-looking design,” countered James Healy of USA Today. “But Ridgeline does everything it’s supposed to so very well, and brings some neat tricks to the party, mainly the in-bed trunk for secure storage.”

Following a slow start, the Ridgeline has exceeded Honda’s sales expectations. Honda had projected sales of 50,000 units in the first 12 months.

“December was our peak month,” said Gary Flint, the chief engineer on the Ridgeline who spoke with PUTC after the award was announced at the North American International Auto Show. “So far we’ve sold about 47,000 units and it’s been on sale since March 1. That’s just in the United States. We’ve also sold about 8,000 in Canada.”

Flint attributed the sluggish early numbers to introducing a “unique vehicle” into a conservative marketplace.

“We feel we’ve finally got to the point where the market understands it,” said Flint. “But there’s still a significant part of the market that isn’t aware of the vehicle.”

Industry observers have questioned the Ridgeline’s high starting price when compared to compact pickup market.

“We never really targeted the compact truck set,” explained Flint. “If you look at the really narrow segment that compares to a fully equipped 4-door crew cab compact truck, Ridgeline is the best selling vehicle out there. But that’s really a very narrow market.”
Flint said he sees future customers coming out fullsize SUVs and pickups “because of some of the negative experiences they’ve had.”
“I think the market potential is about double where we’re at now,” added Flint.

Key to expanding the production will be the success or failure of other models currently built at the Alliston, Ontario, assembly plant in Canada. The Honda Odyssey and Pilot and Acura MDX also run on the same lines.

“It depends on the market penetration of those models and some things happening in the future that may expand their appeal,” summed up Flint. “Everyone’s competing for their own piece of the pie.”

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