Honda North America Inc. said Wednesday it will add a second U.S. production location for the Acura MDX, investing $85 million into its East Liberty, Ohio, assembly plant.
The company said production of the MDX will begin in spring 2017 in Ohio. The investment in East Liberty includes new welding equipment and extension of vehicle conveyers but is not expected to create any new jobs, said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. The MDX today is built only at Honda’s Lincoln, Ala., assembly plant; production there will continue.
The Japanese automaker said it expects Honda and Acura light truck sales will grow and this gives the company greater flexibility, Mendel said. The move will “further advance our flexibility in North America to meet future demand” and increases Honda’s “ability to adjust quickly to meet market demand,” Mendel said.
Mendel said Honda expects much of its near-term growth will come from the truck side of the business. This spring, it is launching a new HR-V SUV and a new 2016 Honda Pilot coming this summer will be shown Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show. The company also has a new Honda Odyssey minivan and new Honda Ridgeline truck coming.
The East Liberty plant now produces the Acura RDX SUV, the Honda Crosstour and Honda CR-V. Mendel said the plant was chosen because it has class-leading production processes and builds another Acura vehicle. Honda’s Lincoln, Ala., plant builds the MDX, Pilot, Odyssey and will be home to the Ridgeline that will begin production next year.
Honda says the third-generation MDX luxury SUV continues to sell well. Its sales were up 23.7 percent last year to 65,603 vehicles.
Construction at East Liberty will include installing a new platform that the MDX is built on. The MDX shares the same platform as the upcoming Pilot. Mendel declined to comment whether the Ridgeline shares the same platform. But it’s possible Honda could add production of different trucks at the Ohio plant in the future as part of a longer term production strategy.
Mendel would not say how production of the MDX would be split between Ohio and Alabama. He said he is very “bullish” on the new Pilot and he hopes sales will increase significantly over the outgoing model.
“It gives us a safety valve,” Mendel said.
Honda’s East Liberty plant has 2,400 employees and annual production capacity of 240,000 vehicles. The Lincoln, Ala., plant has annual production capacity of 340,000 vehicles and 4,000 employees. Both plants run on two shifts.
Honda’s North American auto plants have capacity to produce 1.92 million vehicles a year. Last year, more than 97 percent of Hondas and Acuras sold in the U.S. were produced in North America.