Honda will invest $98 million in its engine plant in Hamilton, Ohio, and create 150
new jobs in the state as part of a plan to become the "fuel efficiency leader in
every segment" of the North American auto industry, company leaders said
About 100 of the new jobs will be added at the company's transmission plant in Russells Point. The rest will go to the Anna plant, Honda's largest engine factory.
The Anna plant has 2,400 employees, while the Russells Point plant has 1,050 workers.
"We believe this is just a beginning, and we are not done," said Hide Iwata, president and chief executive of Honda of America Manufacturing Inc., who gathered with other company leaders Wednesday at the Anna plant, about 50 miles north of Dayton. "We are on the way back."
It's a noteworthy plan for an automaker that only last year wrestled with the aftermath of a Japanese earthquake and tsunami and flooding in Thailand. Both events disrupted parts supplies and hurt sales and profits.
"In many ways, it was probably the most difficult year of our history," said John Spoltman, Anna plant manager.
"Honda is on its way back, and so is Ohio," said Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
Since November 2010, Honda has announced or embarked on $504 million in investments in its Ohio facilities. Honda employs about 1,300 from the Dayton area and an additional 1,400 from Clark and Champaign counties.
Honda leaders called its powertrain strategy "revolutionary," implementing new technology in engines and mating those engines to advanced "continuously variable transmissions," or CVTs.
CVT transmissions work without gears, giving motorists a smoother ride without either automatic or manual shifting.
CVT transmissions rely on two pulleys that grow and shrink in diameter, one on the engine side and another on the wheel side, maintaining efficient but "fun" torque and acceleration, Honda said. Domestic and foreign automakers have long used versions of them, and some motorscooters have employed them, too.
The CVT pulleys will be made in Anna. Initially, they will be supplied from Japan, with the transmissions being assembled at Russells Point this summer. The new transmissions will debut on the Marysville-built 2013 Honda Accord and will be used in other vehicles yet to be named, Honda said.
Steve Finlay, an editor with Ward's Auto, a magazine and website that focuses on the auto industry, thinks Honda's attention to fuel efficiency is a smart move for the long run.
Even as gas prices rise and fall, consumers and the federal government have gradually become more interested in efficiency, Finlay said. He said he can recall a time when motorists got fuel-thirsty, cheap engines when they bought lower-end vehicles, but now, he said, "There's a real revolution going on with these smaller engines."
"You know if they make an investment like that, they expect a return," Finlay said of Honda.
"I don't think there's any alternative," said David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Federal CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are a fact of life for all automakers who sell vehicles in the United States, and year 2015 standards will require Honda to push its average fleet efficiency to at least 35 miles per gallon, Cole said.
Relying further on electrification or hybrid technology is still "down the road aways," Cole added. Motorists are still more comfortable with traditional gas-fueled vehicles, he said. "What you heard (from Honda) is absolutely the right thing," Cole said.
Honda spokesman Ron Lietzke said Honda has received no grants, incentives or tax credits from Ohio government for these investments, and since the company's early years in Ohio, it rarely has sought such help. He said the company did get "cooperation" from the state in shaping zoning and roads around the Russells Point plant.
To apply for jobs at Honda, go to ohio.honda.com/jobs/professional.cfm.
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