SINGAPORE -- Japanese automaker Honda Motor said Thursday it has won an order for 16 of its HondaJet business jets from Wijet, a French operator of a premium air taxi service.
The order is the largest Honda has ever received for its first aircraft, the company said at an air show in Singapore. Although Honda did not disclose the value of the order, the aircraft has a list price of about $5 million.
Wijet will replace its entire fleet of Cessna planes with Honda aircraft over the next 18 months, the French company said.
"We have made a great step forward toward our goal of creating new value in aviation," said Michimasa Fujino, president of Honda Aircraft, the plane's developer, at a news conference.
Honda introduced the seven-seat jet in 2015 and has delivered 73 to customers. It has so far received orders for more than 100 planes in all, the company said. While Honda has sold the jet mainly in North America, it is stepping up marketing in Europe and Asia as well. Since 2017, it has had sales agents in Thailand and China.
The latest order extends HondaJet's market reach. "Currently the majority [of orders] comes from North America, but Europe is catching up", Fujino told Nikkei Asian Review. "At the same time ... HondaJet will be suited for efficient point-to-point transportation in China and Asia," he said.
Fujino envisions HondaJet planes being deployed "to cover all of China, not only the coast but also inland regions" in the future. Both Southeast Asia and China have "big potential," he said.
HondaJet became the most-delivered plane in the light business aircraft segment for the first half of 2017, with 24 units handed over to customers. While the company has had a good start since the delivery of it its first aircraft in December 2015, the immediate challenge is to turn the business profitable. Fujino said it hopes to achieve profitability in five or six years from the first delivery.
Speeding up production will be key to this goal. "We will gradually increase the production rate from four planes per month to five this year", Fujino said.
The number of business jets sold industrywide fluctuates in the range of 700 to 1,000 a year, but competing for a bigger share of the existing market is not enough, Fujino argued. "We have to expand the pie, by selling to those who have never used business jets."
Services like air taxis -- point-to-point air transportation provided on-demand -- will help enlarge the business jet user base, Fujino said. He also noted that Honda, through its dealers, plans to provide support services such as aircraft management to customers, in order to make jet ownership less cumbersome.