Honda targets young buyers in latest push

TORRANCE, CA: Improving customer relations with young buyers is the main focus of a new sales training program American Honda Motor Co. is offering dealers. The training is tied to the introduction of the new Honda Element sports wagon in the US later this month.

TORRANCE, CA: Improving customer relations with young buyers is the main focus of a new sales training program American Honda Motor Co. is offering dealers. The training is tied to the introduction of the new Honda Element sports wagon in the US later this month.

The training emphasizes how Honda salespeople should deal with the young male audience that the Element is targeting. Included are tips on what to say and what not to say to Generation Y prospects.

"What's unique about this program is that it focuses more on the buyer, and not the product," said Art Garner, Honda's PR manager.

Salesperson training for a new model normally emphasizes features on the model, Garner explained. But Honda has found that 20-something male buyers look to the web for nuts-and-bolts information about new cars. They don't want salespeople giving them a laundry list of car features, and they don't want the traditional hard sell that makes many people dread walking into a showroom.

"They come in, they expect a very straightforward presentations, no BS," said Garner.

Honda models have sold well among young males in the past, but "there's a lot of people going after that market today," said Garner. So Honda decided to offer dealers the new sales training program emphasizing customer relations.

It advises salespeople to avoid phrases like "Honda built this car just for you kids."

The training session includes a mannequin with a TV as its head that shows interviews with target consumers discussing what they like and dislike about car salespeople.The salespeople also role play with actors portraying potential buyers.

Honda hired Campos Creative, a California training company, to run the training sessions. It expects about 6,500 salespeople to take the new course before the December 19 introduction of the Element.

The Element was designed by a team of mostly under-25 designers and has such youth-oriented features as an MP3 player and removable seats. Honda describes it as a cross between a pickup truck, an SUV, and a van.

"Most of our products are targeted at a broad market," explained Garner. The Element breaks with that tradition by targeting the youth market.

Honda hopes to sell 50,000 in its first year. The Element's base price is $16,100.

Honda has staked out a strong position with the youth market over the years, bringing young Honda owners to major auto shows to demonstrate how they've customized their Hondas. It stresses its ties to the California beach culture at such displays, trying to project a cool, youth-oriented image.

American Honda saw its sales increase 4.6% in November, a month when the overall US car market softened considerably.

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