By Nick Carey
DETROIT (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co Ltd <7267.T> on Friday will unveil its newest-generation Accord, one of four re-engineered midsize sedans that Asian automakers are betting on to win market share as Detroit rivals shift focus to SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks.
The new Accord, like rival Toyota Motor Corp's <7203.T> all-new Camry launching this month, offers more horsepower, safety technology like standard collision-avoiding braking, styling that pays homage to German sports sedans, and better fuel economy although Honda did not release figures.
In a nod to driving enthusiasts, Honda will offer manual transmission as an option in two versions of the 2018 Accord, instead of only automatic shift in most midsize cars. Certain new Accords will be available with a new 10-speed auto shift, which Honda called a first for a front-wheel drive car.
The new Accord's infotainment system can be upgraded over a Wi-Fi network, although functions such as braking or engine performance will not be upgradable over the air, Honda said.
The Accord and Camry are pillars of their manufacturers' U.S. businesses, each selling well over 300,000 vehicles a year. In the coming months, Nissan Motor Co Ltd <7201.T> is expected to launch a new Altima midsize sedan, and Hyundai Motor Co <005380.KS will launch a new Sonata midsize car. All are popular marques that will be promoted heavily.
Honda Senior Vice President Jeff Conrad said in Detroit on Friday he expected the Accord to sustain its current sales level, estimated at around 350,000 cars this year, despite the overall decline in sedan sales.
"We think the addition of new product is going to make people stop and take a look" at the sedan segment, Conrad said, in reference to the models hitting the market this fall.
With General Motors Co <GM.N> and Ford Motor Co <F.N> cutting sedan production, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV <FCHA.MI> abandoning the segment, Honda and its Asian rivals could boost sales with updated models, dealers said.
"They could take share from other brands, which is traditionally what happens when a new product is launched," said Pete DeLongchamps, vice president for manufacturer relations at Group 1 Automotive Inc <GPI.N>, the third-largest U.S. auto dealer group.
Passenger car sales have steadily declined since 2012 when they made up 51.2 percent of the U.S. market. Sedans have sagged to a 38.1 percent share in the first half of this year. IHS Markit said U.S. consumer loyalty to SUVs and pickup trucks has risen since 2012, but declined for sedans. (For a graphic, see: http://tmsnrt.rs/2tNZJ9J)
Honda's unveiling of the new Accord coincided with its announcement of a recall of about 2.1 million vehicles for a defect linked to fires.
(Reporting by Nick Carey and Joseph White; Editing by Richard Chang)