Updated at: 01/14/2013 5:07 PM
By DAVID RUNK
(AP) DETROIT - After scoring a hit with its CR-V compact SUV, Honda on Monday offered a glimpse at what the automaker’s new, even smaller SUV might look like when it hits streets.
The "Urban SUV Concept" made its debut during press previews at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Honda Motor Co. plans to launch a small SUV based on that concept vehicle in Japan by the end of the year and in the U.S. in 2014.
The concept SUV is 9 inches shorter than the CR-V, and hidden rear door handles give it a smooth, coupe-like presence. When it goes on sale in the U.S. it’s expected to be priced below the existing CR-V, which starts around $22,700 for a 2013 model.
"We believe there is a good market potential for this vehicle," Tetsuo Iwamura, president and chief operating officer of Honda’s North American Regional Operations, said in an interview with reporters at the show.
The new SUV is expected to fill a place in Honda’s lineup between the subcompact Fit and the CR-V, and Iwamura said he anticipates it will draw new buyers _ not poach sales from Honda’s existing vehicles. He said the concept for the new SUV is "completely different" than its existing offerings.
Honda’s new SUV is part of a segment of smaller vehicles that are becoming more readily available in the U.S. market with higher-end features such as heated seats and navigation, noted IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland. Other upcoming small SUVs, such as the Toyota RAV4, fit the bill as well.
"In every other part of the world, those are considered midsize if not larger, and we have them as compact SUVs. As they move up, there’s room underneath," she said. "We’re getting room at the bottom."
Last year, Honda’s U.S. vehicle sales rose 24 percent, led by strong sales of its Civic and Accord sedans as well as the Odyssey minivan. But Honda sees an opportunity to increase sales of its smaller vehicles as well. Last year, for example, CR-V sales rose 29 percent to more than 281,000.
Honda hasn’t released a forecast for 2013 global sales, but it’s shooting for its biggest sales year ever in the U.S., Iwamura said. The company sold 1.55 million vehicles in the U.S. in 2007, and "our challenge for this year," he said, is to top that.
Honda is opening a plant near Celaya, Guanajuato, north of Mexico City. It plans to build the new SUV there as well as the Fit. With the addition of the plant, Honda said about 95 percent of its production for North America will be in North America, up from its current level of about 90 percent.
"That is a symbol of the kind of localization that we’ve done in North America," Honda President and CEO Takanobu Ito said in an interview with reporters at the show.
AP Business Writer Jeff Karoub contributed to this report.
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