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Honda Weighs Building Vans in N. America

Honda Motor Co. may decide within weeks whether it will build a new North American assembly plant to produce a new generation of minivans, the company's top United States sales executive said Wednesday.

Richard E. Colliver, senior vice president of American Honda Motor Co., says the company does not plan to increase imports of its Japanese-built Odyssey, a small minivan that sold slowly this year.

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The US market for new minivans has grown to about 1.2 million vehicles a year. If Honda wants to be a significant player, it will have to offer a product that is closer than the Odyssey is to the market leaders, Mr. Colliver says. Chrysler Corp. and Ford Motor Co. dominate the minivan market with vans that are substantially larger than the Odyssey.

If Honda replaces the Odyssey at the end of its life cycle in the US market, it will want a van tailored to American tastes and built in North America by the 1999 model year, Colliver says.

He would not predict the company's decision. But he says it will have to be made soon to meet that schedule, and that it could come ''in the next few weeks.''

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