Honda’s recent $220 million investment in its redesigned Honda Accord is a clear signal the company has big expectations for its flagship sedan, analysts said, even at a time when buyers are increasingly flocking to trucks and sport utility vehicles.
About 1,400 workers from Clark and Champaign counties work for the automaker, and it employs about 14,500 Ohioans overall. Several area companies, including KTH Parts Industries in St. Paris and Parker Trutec in Springfield and Urbana supply parts for Honda.
Honda’s Marysville manufacturing plant has a decades-old history with the car, which first rolled off the plant’s assembly line in 1982. Company officials said this week their investment at the Marysville plant is bigger than typically needed to update other models, but believe the results were worth the additional investment.
The newest Accord is the 10th generation of the model, and nine of those models have been built in Marysville.
“That car is our baby,” said Steve Rodriguez, Honda’s manufacturing leader for the Accord. “It’s the best Accord we’ve ever made and our team is really proud of it.”
Consumer demand for trucks and SUVs, often at the expense of sedans, has been dramatic, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst for IHS Automotive. That doesn’t mean sales are low, she said, just that sedans aren’t quite as popular as they were several years ago. The Accord is still Honda’s third best-selling vehicle, behind only the Civic and CR-V.
Through November, Honda has sold about 300,500 Accords, which includes both the 2017 and 2018 models. That’s down about 4 percent compared to the same time last year.
But Brinley said automakers in general are looking for ways to make sedans more attractive for customers again. Customers looking to move cargo or passengers may want SUVs, she said, but that leaves more room for sedans to focus on driving performance and styling, for example.
The Accord is typically one of the top contenders in its segment, which also includes the Chevy Malibu and the Toyota Camry, Brinley said.
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“What we’re seeing in sedans now is with the shift to utility vehicles, you’re going to see automakers try and make their sedans a little more exciting than they had been,” she said.
During a tour of the Marysville plant this week, Honda leaders highlighted a variety of new manufacturing processes and investments they said set the newest Accord apart from older versions. The bulk of Honda’s $220 million investment included about $160 million for 340 new robots in the facility’s welding department. Another $60 million was invested in various departments throughout the plant.
Among the improvements, the company developed and showed off a laser brazing process to more seamlessly sculpt the car’s roof and eliminate a strip of molding to improve the car’s look. Other changes included using an acoustic spray foam to reduce noise in the cabin and the use of high-performance adhesives to make the car’s body more rigid.
The company also is investing about $47 million at Honda’s nearby Anna engine plant to produce the Accord’s 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter turbocharged engines, the first time turbo technology has been used to power the sedan.
The newest Accord is also about 31 percent lighter, Rodriguez said, allowing for better fuel economy.
“We could not have done so drastic of a change and it would have cost less,” Rodriguez said in the company’s investment in the 2018 Accord. “But this is what we get.”