Honda tasked workers at its East Liberty plant with overhauling one of its global flagship vehicles, forming the manufacturing base for the 2017 CR-V and marking the first time an Ohio site has lead such as effort.
The newest model, which is expected to be a backbone of the company’s lineup, began rolling off the assembly line at the Logan County factory Tuesday.
Honda is a major employer both in the region and across the state. About 1,400 workers from Clark and Champaign counties work for the automaker, and it employs about 13,000 Ohioans overall.
Honda has sold more than 4 million of the compact sport utility vehicles since the model was introduced in 1997, making it the best-selling SUV in the U.S. over the past two decades, according to information from the carmaker.
“It is a pretty competitive market,” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst for IHS Automotive. “Honda does really well with the CR-V and we only see that growing.”
It’s the first time a Honda plant in the U.S. has led the mass production efforts for one of its global models, said Brian Phillips, North America manufacturing leader for Honda.
“This is a big responsibility,” Phillips said. “For the first time we’ve been charged with leading the launch of a global model.”
Honda’s decision to entrust its East Liberty site with developing the manufacturing processes for that model is a clear sign of the company’s trust in the plant’s workforce, Brinley said. The CR-V is one of the company’s best-selling models, along with the Accord and the Civic.
“It’s significant that this is now the lead plant,” Brinley said of East Liberty’s production of the CR-V. “It’s an accomplishment for this plant and it speaks to the quality and expertise that Honda manufacturing in North America has built up over the years.”
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In North America, the CR-V will also be manufactured at Honda plants in Allison, Ontario, and Greensburg, Ind. But the processes and technologies used to manufacture the newest vehicle were developed in East Liberty. In addition, the car’s new 1.5-liter turbocharged engine will be built exclusively at the automaker’s nearby engine facility in Anna, Ohio.
The CR-V regularly competes with Toyota’s RAV-4 for the best-selling model in its segment, Brinley said. Honda has sold about 294,000 units of the CR-V through October this year, compared to 287,000 units for the RAV-4. The Ford Escape is third on the list with about 258,000 vehicles sold.
The final fuel efficiency rating for the Honda SUV wasn’t yet available this week, company officials said. But the vehicle was designed using materials to give the newest model a lighter frame for better fuel efficiency while remaining strong enough to offer a high safety rating.
It was also designed to make the manufacturing process safer and more accessible for employees in the plant.
“It’s a pretty important redesign,” Brinley said. “It’s a very thorough redesign and the product is quite a bit stronger. It brings all the technology it needs to in the space to make sure it stays competitive.”
Honda has invested tens of millions of dollars into Ohio in recent years. The company has completed a $35 million expansion to its Marysville plant that includes research and training facilities for technicians across the U.S.
Last fall, Honda also announced plans to spend $210 million to build a new paint line at its Marysville Auto Plant, part of an initiative the automaker is calling its “Green Path” to reduce its environmental footprint in North America.
Along with the CR-V, the 2.8 million square-foot East Liberty plant also produces the Acura RDX and will begin production of the Acura MDX luxury SUV next spring, Phillips said. The facility has the capacity to produce as many as 240,000 vehicles per year.
Honda invested at least $85 million in the East Liberty facility to pave the way for production of the Acura MDX.
The manufacturer also recently began production at its Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, where it produces the Acura NSX supercar.
Since 1982, Honda has manufactured more than 17 million vehicles in Ohio, according to information from the company.
By the numbers:
2,350 — Employees at Honda’s East Liberty facility
240,000 — Annual capacity for vehicle production at East Liberty
1998 — Year production started at the facility
4 million — Approximate CR-V sales since 1997