Honda claims US retail sales leadership image

Honda has traditionally focused its marketing efforts on the retail side of the market and there, it claims, it has been gaining ground.

The Japanese brand claims to now be the retail sales leader in four of the largest non-truck segments in the U.S. auto market with the midsize Civic, compact Accord, Odyssey minivan and CR-V crossover.

This is because “a sale isn’t always a sale,” or so says John Mendel, the top American executive at Honda, which has long steered clear of the daily rental and other fleet sales that prop up many of its competitors’ sales charts.

Those powerhouse product lines helped Honda achieve a 16.2% increase in retail sales for the first nine months of 2013, while capturing a 16.1% share of the American market. During the same period in 2012, Honda held a 15.8% share of the retail market.

“By the time the dust settles, we expected we’ll set an all-time Honda record,” in 2013, added Mendel during a conference call with reporters. That’s all the more significant, he added, since the recovering U.S. auto industry is still operating about 1.5 million units short of its previous peak.

Honda’s decision to emphasize its retail performance isn’t surprising considering its long-running decision to stay out of fleets, large and small. While there are some lucrative corporate markets, industry analysts note that rental markets usually yield low profits and, worse, they often wind up competing directly with a manufacturer’s franchise dealers once cars are pulled from rental service and resold.

Of the more than 280,000 Accord sedans sold between January and the end of September, less than 2,000 went to fleets, according to Mendel. By comparison, Toyota sold about 48,000 Camry sedans to fleets, based on data from tracking firm RL Polk. Though it lagged in retail volume, at 265,377, that was enough to give the bigger Japanese firm’s midsize model a substantial overall lead over the Accord overall.