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Honda Aims To Squeeze Another SUV Between CR-V And Pilot In 2018: Report

2017 Honda SUV lineup – Images: Honda

American Honda will build a Pilot-based SUV intended to carve out a space between the Honda CR-V and Honda Pilot.

According to a report published by WardsAuto with AutoForecast Solutions, Honda will assemble this Co-Pilot in Alabama alongside the Pilot beginning in the fall of 2018.

Co-Pilot? How about Honda Pilot Sport? Nah, that’s Michelin territory. Honda Pilot Sidekick? Suzuki grabbed that one already. Honda Pilot Junior? Too juvenile.

The name matters less than the positioning. Is there room for a midsize two-row utility vehicle in between the CR-V, traditionally America’s top-selling SUV/crossover, and the Pilot, one of America’s most popular three-row vehicles?

It’s a gap Ford, Nissan, and Hyundai have no trouble filling.

The Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport have all succeeded in the two-row utility game in between high-volume compact SUVs and larger three-row brethren.

Of the 772,667 SUVs/crossovers sold by the Ford brand in the United States in 2016, 17 percent were Ford Edges. The 134,588-unit Edge total was the best annual result in the Edge’s history. Only a dozen SUVs/crossovers sold more often than the Edge in the U.S. last year, though two of those vehicles — Escape and Explorer — were showroom partners.

2016 Nissan Murano Front Three-Quarter, Image: © 2016 Seth Parks/The Truth About Cars

At Nissan, 2016 was likewise the best year in the history of U.S. Murano volume, as it sold 86,953 Muranos in America last year, equal to 16 percent of the Nissan brand’s utility vehicle volume. The Murano outsold the three-row Pathfinder by more than 5,000 units, though the Rogue outsold the Murano and Pathfinder, combined, by nearly two to one.

Unfortunately, Hyundai Motor America doesn’t provide a sales breakdown between the Santa Fe Sport and larger Santa Fe. But based on current U.S. inventory and the Canadian sales balance, we can assume roughly 92,000 of the total Santa Fes sold in America in 2016 were Sports, making the Santa Fe Sport slightly more popular than the surging Tucson.

2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport - Image: Hyundai

Based on the success of those vehicles alone, Honda would easily be led to believe there’s room in the company’s U.S. lineup for a fourth crossover. It’s not as though Honda hasn’t managed to build hugely popular utility vehicles in the past.

In each of the last five years, the Honda CR-V has been America’s top-selling SUV/crossover. In the first-quarter of 2017, Honda built America’s fourth-best-selling subcompact crossover – the HR-V is only 542 sales out of second place in the category. And Honda expects it’ll better fill demand for the Pilot, often in short supply, with production of the Acura MDX moving from the company’s Alabama plant (which builds Pilots, Odysseys, Ridgelines, and MDXs) to Ohio. Honda had just a 38-day supply of Pilots heading into April. The industry average for light truck supply is nearly double that.

The new fifth-generation 2017 Honda CR-V stretches 180.6 inches and offers 102 cubic feet of passenger volume and 39 cubic feet of cargo volume. The third-generation Pilot is 14-inches longer with 49-percent more space for passengers or 43-percent more space for cargo behind the second row. Smack in the middle, the 2017 Ford Edge is 7.5-inches longer than the CR-V but 6.4-inches shorter than the Pilot. The Edge is large enough to offer 12-percent more passenger volume than the CR-V.

Like most automakers, Honda is traditionally mum on future product planning, and we’ve yet to hear back in response to our inquiries. Unlike many other automakers, Honda often keeps products close to the vest for much longer stretches, preferring to preserve demand for the current lineup and not build up hype for the next vehicle. If Honda is going to build a Co-Pilot in late 2018, we shouldn’t expect to see an auto show prototype reveal until 2018. A production debut likely won’t occur until at least the second-quarter of next year.

And who knows, maybe they’ll call it the Passport?

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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