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Honda will bring a version of its micro-compact Fit to the United States as early as this year, according to Japan's Nihon Keizai business daily. The vehicle, which was the best selling car in Japan in 2002 and second-best selling car in Japan last year, will slot beneath the Civic in the automaker's U.S. lineup to combat less-expensive offerings sold by Hyundai, Kia, and Suzuki. It will also take on Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand, which attracts younger buyers with low-performance, reasonably-priced offerings.

The five-door Fit carries a 1.4-liter engine capable of 83 hp and 88 lb-ft of torque mated to either a five speed manual or a CVT. According to Honda, the car gets about 40 mpg, maxes the speedo at 106 mph and can zoom from 0 to 60 mph in about 12 seconds. Honda sells nearly 200,000 Fits in Japan annually, and the car is currently sold in 60 countries under different monikers, such as Jazz in the United Kingdom. Honda is deciding whether to export the car Stateside from either its plant in Brazil or Japan.

While Honda hasn't pegged a U.S. sales number yet, the Brazil plant currently has expansion capacity to add 20,000 units annually, according to Honda officials, and Honda will consider building the U.S.-destined models there if the dollar continues to weaken. Nevertheless, Honda's current plan calls for exportation to soon expand to Argentine, Bolivia, Chili, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and other South American countries, so U.S. buyers will most likely get Japan-built models.

Pricing for the vehicle is expected to fall around $10,000, which will undercut the base Civic by $3000. The Civic, which currently is the best selling compact car in the United States. Civic sales were off in 2003 from their 2002 mark however, falling to 299,672 from 313,159. While Civic struggled, Toyota surged, upping Corolla sales more than 25 percent to 257,696. Chevrolet, Suzuki and Kia have new or redesigned cheap sub-compacts built in Korea and headed to the U.S. market in 2004 that the Fit-based Honda car will go head-to-head with. -John D. Stoll
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