Last week it was reported that Honda was going to retire the Ridgeline, well, looks like those reports may have been false, let's hope so....
LINCOLN, Alabama -- Ridgeline pickups will continue to roll off the assembly line at Honda's Alabama factory, the automaker says, despite reports that the low-selling model has reached the end of the road.
In August, the Ridgeline went back into production in Lincoln, following a five-month hiatus brought on by a parts shortage that forced Honda to limit output on a wide range of models.
But even though it's back, questions persist. Introduced in 2005, the Ridgeline's annual sales peaked in 2006 and have fallen every year since then.
There's been plenty of speculation about the pickup's demise, and a recent report from Automotive News says that will happen in 2013.
Honda, however, disputes the report.
"The Ridgeline's not going anywhere," said Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky. "There is no plan currently underway or any plan in the works to kill the Ridgeline."
At the moment, Schifsky said, the Ridgeline plays a key role for Honda buyers and Honda dealers.
"We feel it's important to have a pickup truck in the lineup," he said. "We made a significant investment of time and money to move it into the Alabama plant, so that should speak to our commitment to the vehicle."
Production of the Ridgeline moved from Canada to Alabama in 2009, a shift that helped Honda build more of the popular Civic sedan in Canada.
It also kept the 4,000-worker Lincoln plant busy, as demand for the facility's key products -- the Odyssey minivan and Pilot SUV -- had waned in a global sales slump.
But the Ridgeline has struggled to find a wide audience, despite gaining industry accolades for design and quality. In the latest nod, it topped the midsize pickup category in this year's J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Initial Quality Survey.
"It's a clever vehicle because it straddles that line between being a passenger car and a utility vehicle," said Michael Jordan, executive editor for Edmunds.com. "It's a vehicle for people who drive cars but need the utility of a truck."
But that combo also can be a liability.
For one thing, it's viewed by some as a "city boys' truck," Jordan said, noting its car-like attributes, including four doors, five-passenger seating and other styling cues.
Pricing also can be an issue.
"Even though a fully-optioned pickup can be a $40,000 proposition, a stripped-down one can be $25,000 or $28,000," Jordan said.
The 2011 Ridgeline starts at $29,150.
During its introduction year of 2005, sales of the Ridgeline totaled 42,593. The next year, sales topped 50,000, the highest they have ever been.
In 2007, sales slid to 42,795, and they continue to drop. In 2010, sales totaled 16,142, and through the first eight months of this year, sales trail last year by 49 percent.
Part of the problem this year has been a radical depletion of inventory. Last spring's earthquake in Japan damaged Honda supplier operations, creating a parts shortage and forcing the automaker to curb vehicle output across North America.
But while production of the Odyssey and Pilot were scaled back in Lincoln, Ridgeline was halted completely.
In mid-March, the plant stopped building the pickup, which was due to be transferred from Assembly Line 1 to Assembly Line 2 as part of a previously scheduled shift. But the completion of the transfer was delayed because of the parts supply issue, so no market-ready Ridgelines were built until production was restarted on Aug. 17.
The plant has now returned to full steam, including Odyssey and Pilot production.
The 2012 Ridgeline is scheduled to go on sale in November. As for upcoming design changes, including speculation that the Ridgeline could morph into a smaller pickup, Honda usually doesn't talk about future products.
"The fact that we're saying it's going to be around is an important statement," Schifsky said. "Where it goes in terms of marketing, sales and redesign, we'll have to wait and see."
Whatever the future holds for the Ridgeline, the Lincoln plant has a bright future, Jordan said.
"Clearly that platform can be adapted to other utility-style platforms," he said.
The plant has demonstrated its flexibility in recent years. Along with the Ridgeline, production of the Honda Accord was brought in during the industry sales slump.
Accord production ceased there last year, but the Acura MDX, an SUV made under Honda's luxury brand, is scheduled to arrive in Lincoln in 2013.
Jordan said the Ridgeline has always been a niche model, not a mass-market pickup such as the Ford F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.
"It's a funny vehicle. All the people who criticize it either really want a truck or a car, so they don't want a Ridgeline to begin with," he said.
But the Ridgeline does have an ardent group of followers.
"The problem is, there's just not enough of them," he said.