Some of the Japanese auto makers' most recognized vehicles are new for the '08 model year but they are coming at a time when perhaps, more than ever before, the U.S. OEMs are better prepared to wage war.
In September, Honda debuted a new Accord sedan and coupe, the eighth generation of its midsize passenger car, which, along with the compact Civic, put Honda on the map in the U.S.
But the sailing has been less than smooth for the Accord in recent years.
Since the debut of the seventh-generation Accord for '03, the car has fallen further behind chief competitor the Toyota Camry, never living up to the 400,000 unit sales target Honda set for it.
But that isn't stopping the No.2 Japanese auto maker from trying again to hit 400k with the '08 Accord, which has a new 3.5L V-6 engine, Honda's biggest V-6 to date in a U.S. passenger car, as well as an interior that at this point is industry-leading, with top-notch materials and an Acura-esque cockpit design.
We liked the Accord but will Camry lovers, who typically favor a softer ride and less spirited characteristics? The '08 Accord has a better chance of nipping away at the Nissan Altima, which, at a year old now, is ripe for the picking in the fiercely competitive midsize market.
And it also must face a new Chevy Malibu, which GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz also promises will have an industry-leading interior.
Meanwhile, Toyota already is retailing a new '08 Highlander, with the Highlander Hybrid due to go on sale this month. Both are bigger than their predecessor, which Toyota claims as one of the “first true crossovers.”
But, thanks to the sinuous new GM trio of large CUVs: the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Aura, we think Toyota may have a bit of a struggle on their hands, as the new Highlander is quite boxy and truck-ish, looking more like an SUV than the all-the-rage CUVs on the market.
Speaking of SUVs, Toyota is expected to launch new versions of the hulking Land Cruiser and Sequoia models for '08. There's not much we can say about them, but we wonder if two big SUVs from one brand is two too many in this day and age of environmental consciousness, especially when they're coming from the auto brand that is most identifiable with said environment.
No.3 Japanese auto maker Nissan North America Inc. is rolling out its first small CUV, the Rogue, in hopes of making a dent in the sales of RAV4s and CR-Vs. The latter now is the best-selling utility vehicle (CUV or SUV) in the U.S. so this will be no small feat.
While Nissan thinks it can exploit the need for a sporty compact crossover, the standard (and only) transmission, a CVT, saps a lot of the “sport” from the sole engine, a 2.5L 4-cyl.
'08 Honda Accord
In Showrooms: Now
Price: Estimated - $30,000
Production: 366,000 in 2008
Pro's: Resurrection of the coupe is a great touch; with some serious attitude, this could be the best Accord yet — and it's priced competitively.
Con's: Declining sales in recent years; vastly improved GM Malibu could steal some marktshare — note, we said “could,” not “will.”
In Showrooms: Now
Price: Base - $20,000
Production: Estimated 80,000-100,000 to be imported annually
Pro's: Attractive price, nifty design and great name. that alone should bring in buyers.
Con's: Sort of late, but still hopes to challenge Honda's CR-V and Toyota's RAV4 small CUVs. CVT makes this vehicle less than “Roguish.” And what about Nissan's quality issues?