Honda of America Manufacturing capped its multi-year comeback from the economic recession and two natural disasters with the unveiling of its ninth generation Accord model Monday at the Marysville Auto Plant, which employs close to 1,500 people from Clark and Champaign counties.
The company has been hiring at all of its Ohio plants to prepare for this release and restarted its second shift production line after the recession lead them to shut some production down.
“We will hire some more people because of this. The volume is steady and we’ll have a lot of overtime,” said Bob Cartwright, the project leader for the Marysville new model center and a resident of Springfield. He has worked at Honda for 28 years.
Currently, Honda is the 11th largest employer in Clark County with 650 workers. And 822 employees come from Champaign County, said company spokesman Ron Lietzke, up from 600 and 800 employees respectively.
Cartwright, an engineer, facilitates new model projects through all departments. Completing the three-year project was a challenge, he said, because of last year’s tsunami and earthquake in Japan and flooding in Thailand. Those events disrupted the supply of critical parts — delaying production and shrinking the available inventory.
“Whenever you have a delay it just cuts the development schedule,” he said. “We adapted and made additional changes and worked extra hours to stay on schedule.”
Jeff Tomko, plant manager, said last year “is a year none of us want to relive,” and recounted how not only production was negatively affected by the natural disasters, but close friends and coworkers as well.
“We rallied together to figure out how to get around (production delays) and it was a test to the entire team,” Tomko said.
It’s been several years since the Marysville Auto Plant has been at full production capacity after the economic crisis, he added.
“We’ve increased volume, added shifts and we’re back to full production and with the launch we expect to exceed that,” Tomko said.
Tomko and Cartwright, along with company president Hide Iwata and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, were among those who unveiled the 2013 Honda Accord in front of hundreds of Honda employees and officials from Columbus and Marysville.
The Accord was the first Honda vehicle built in Marysville — the first Honda plant in North America that opened in 1982. To Iwata and others, the new Accord release 30 years later is a triumph against the odds.
“Many wondered if we’d overcome these challenges,” Iwata said to his employees. “This team has responded, they have responded in a big way.”
Kasich lauded the growth of Honda’s Ohio plants. Kasich said in a year and a half, the state has seen 122,500 new jobs — including the new ones at Honda.
Honda’s new vehicle boasts special features such as 360 degree visibility and a focus on fuel economy. The Accord is the first Honda vehicle in North America with the new “Earth Dreams” engine and transmission line with improved fuel efficiency. Honda officials also said the car is more spacious on the inside and has technology such as a rear-view camera, a text messaging function and more.
“Honda’s are just fun to drive,” said Steve Rodriguez, Marysville plant project leader. “It has great customer value, great quality.”
Lietzke said the vehicle will be built as a sedan and a coupe, with a V6 or 4-cylinder engine, and will be exported to 30 different countries, in addition to being sold here.
With the new Accord, Honda is trying to avoid the criticism it got for a new Civic model introduced earlier this year. Consumer Reports panned the new Civic and repeated the criticism in the September issue, putting the Honda on a list of five popular cars to avoid. Although it remains reliable and efficient, the Civic has a choppy ride, noisy cabin and a mediocre interior, the magazine says.
While the criticism hasn’t hurt Civic sales, it has cost Honda. The car led all compacts last month with sales topping 25,000. But Honda is now spending $1,550 per Civic on incentives, $250 above the industry’s small-car average, according to TrueCar.com, an auto pricing service. Honda, realizing its competition had gotten better, is reworking the 2012 Civic to fix some of the problems.
“We need to see if Honda has learned from Civic and what they’ve applied to the Accord,” says Aaron Bragman, an auto industry analyst for the IHS consulting firm.
Next up is Honda’s new plant to produce the Acura NSX vehicle. Lietzke said the company would not disclose the location of the plant until later in the year, but it will be built in central Ohio.
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