Honda launched its locally-assembled CR-V sports-utility vehicle in Taiwan on Wednesday, striving to regain customers in a market it temporarily pulled out of last year, the Taipei Times said.

According to the paper, Honda severed a 41-year partnership with local partner Sanyang Industry Co in January last year and invested about $NT34 billion to establish Honda Taiwan Co in July.

The Taiwan arm of Honda aims to sell 10,000 CR-V SUVs this year, as it tries to take advantage of growing sales in the sector. Taiwan is the seventh country to produce CR-Vs.

Sales of recreational vehicles in Taiwan accounted for 15.8% of domestic market sales last year which reached 398,877 units, up 14.8% year-on-year.

That segment is expected to expand to 25% of the market over the next few years. Ford sold around 15,000 Escape SUVs last year and just launched a new three-litre, four-wheel-drive Escape earlier this month.

The first locally assembled CR-V rolled off the production line in Pingtung on Monday. Honda will start selling the two-wheel-drive models at $719,000 and four-wheel-drive models up to $869,000.

Honda Taiwan’s Pingtung factory is expected to turn out 12,000 cars this year, although the site can be expanded to produce 35,000 cars annually.

Company sources told the Taipei Times that Honda may introduce one of two new models -- the Accord sedan or Fit (Jazz) compact car -- sometime in the second half of the year.

The company has five dealerships in Taiwan and is expected to have 19 outlets by June and 30 by December. A spokesman told the paper the company planned to have 40 outlets by the end of 2004.