Honda Eyes 3% Rise in 2008 US Sales

Honda Motor said on Wednesday it would aim for U.S. sales of 1.59 million cars in 2008, up 3 percent from its estimated record sales of 1.55 million there this year.

Japan's second-biggest automaker also said it would target record sales of 420,000 cars in Europe in 2008, up 11 percent from its estimate for this year.

Global car sales for calendar 2007 are estimated at a record 3.76 million, a rise of 6 percent over last year. Honda had not previously given a forecast for 2007.

Chief Executive Officer Takeo Fukui also told a news conference that he expected global motorcycle sales to rise 6 percent in 2007 to a record 13.38 million units.

Honda, along with most other Japanese brands, has outpaced the U.S. car market with a 2.7 percent rise in sales so far this year with one month left, boosting its market share to 9.6 percent.

A top executive in charge of Honda's U.S. operations told Reuters last week that he expected Honda's sales to grow 3-4 percent in 2008 against weaker overall demand. Honda will start production at a new plant in the U.S. state of Indiana next fall.

Industry analysts and executives have grown increasingly concerned about the risk that a housing downturn combined with a spike in mortgage defaults could undermine U.S. vehicle sales in 2008.

JPMorgan analyst Takaki Nakanishi said 2008 would mark a turning point for Honda as its long-term growth potential is favorably reassessed.

"Honda is poised to embark on a new growth phase as it secures the production capacity to enable volume growth, introduces new hybrid and super-clean diesel technology, generates growth in emerging nations and in its premium brand, and reinforces its new production structures," he wrote in a recent report.

In China, Honda aims to expand sales by 17 percent in 2008 to a record 490,000 cars from an estimated 420,000 this year.

Fukui also told a year-end news conference that sales in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding China and Japan, rose an estimated 9 percent to 345,000 cars this year, with another 20 percent jump targeted for 2008.

In South America, sales grew 30 percent to 118,000 cars this year. After almost doubling its car production at a Brazilian factory in July, Fukui said Honda would add another 20,000 units of annual capacity next August.