Crafting the 2023 Honda Pilot

The new Pilot has more space for passengers and cargo, as well as a redesigned engine

Carefully crafting the new 2023 Honda Pilot and Pilot TrailSport models.

The Honda Pilot SUV is all-new for 2023, and preparing for its launch kept the Alabama Auto Plant in Lincoln busy in 2022.

AAP is “the exclusive global production source” for the Pilot and Passport SUVs, according to company literature. The newest version of the Pilot is the largest and most powerful since the SUV was introduced in 2003. The Pilot line includes the new Pilot TrailSport SUV, which AAP spokesperson Samantha Davis described as “the most off-road capable Honda SUV ever.”

Overall, the 2023 Pilot is longer, wider and more powerful, with more space for passengers and cargo. It has a new V-6 engine that is also built at AAP and represents the first major redesigned engine since the plant opened.

The TrailSport offers special features that include an off-road tuned suspension, all-terrain tires and thick steel skid plates that protect the engine and fuel tank.

The new Pilot launched in December.

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AAP now builds the Honda Odyssey minivan, the Honda Pilot and Pilot TrailSport SUVs, the Honda Passport and Passport TrailSport SUVs and the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck, as well as the V-6 engines.

“Typically, about 6% to 8% of the Alabama Auto Plant’s production is allocated for global export, but this figure is fluid due to fluctuations in the global economy,” Davis says. “Over 99% of the vehicles Honda sold in the U.S. in 2022 were made in North America.”

The Honda Passport and Passport TrailSport are new stars in the company’s production array.

The plant employs about 4,500 people and has a production capacity of more than 340,000 vehicles and engines annually, Davis says. It is hiring and has partnerships with workforce development programs in Alabama, as well as local technical schools, community colleges and state colleges.

Last year also saw a major change in leadership at AAP. In October, Lamar Whitaker, an Alabama native, became the new plant lead. Whitaker succeeded Bob Schwyn, who was promoted to senior vice president of Honda Development & Manufacturing of America and lead of the Ohio manufacturing management center.

Whitaker started his career at Honda in 2001 as a mass production buyer and has held multiple positions at AAP over 22 years. He is now responsible for leading all AAP production operations.

Like other auto manufacturers, Honda has had to deal with supply chain shortages including semiconductor chips in recent years, as well as other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like the rest of the industry, we aren’t out of the woods yet with supply issues, but we anticipate higher production levels this year vs. 2022,” Davis says.

In January, Honda employees across the country — including these at the Alabama Auto Plant — celebrated the completion of 30 million vehicles in the U.S.

As for the industry trend toward electric vehicles, the Lincoln plant for now is focused on the internal combustion engine. But that doesn’t mean electrification isn’t on the way to Honda North America.

Honda’s goal is to sell 100% battery-electric and fuel-electric vehicles in North America by 2040, Davis says. Progressive targets of 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2035 also have been set.

In October, Honda and LG Energy Solution announced a new joint venture battery plant in Fayette County, Ohio, expected to be completed by the end of 2024. The electric vehicle batteries will go to Honda auto plants to produce EVs to be sold in North America.

Honda also plans to begin retooling three production facilities in Ohio to produce electric vehicles. With the battery plant, Honda will operate a new EV hub in that state.

“The Alabama Auto Plant has a critical role to play in this future,” Davis says. “As Honda begins to prepare for BEV production, we need to sustain our current production of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to continue to meet anticipated strong customer demand through 2030 and beyond.

“Moreover, the sustained success of the ICE vehicles made at AAP will support the required investment in our electrified future.”

Jane Nicholes is a Daphne-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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