Honda Alabama produces new products and packages

The Alabama plant began producing the all-new Pilot and Pilot TrailSport models, and opened a post-production plant to add accessories to its vehicles

The Honda Pilot and Pilot TrailSport are the newest additions to the production lineup in Lincoln.

Honda’s Alabama Auto Plant (AAP) had a big 2023, completing its first full year of manufacturing the all-new Honda Pilot and Honda Pilot TrailSport. In addition, the Lincoln plant opened a $16 million accessory installation facility, where the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck and Pilot, Pilot TrailSport and Passport SUVs are now enhanced with accessory packages.

Building the all-new Pilot models was extra demanding because they required the most manufacturing change points, including new equipment and processes, since the first Pilot was introduced in 2003, says Lamar Whitaker, plant lead for AAP and vice president of Honda Development & Manufacturing of America (HDMA).

“The launch of the Pilot and Pilot TrailSport was one of the most challenging new model launches our associates have faced in the 22-year history of our plant, because this was really two models in one, requiring a new platform and engine, as well as major new features and components,” he says.

The new Pilot is longer, wider and more powerful than its predecessors. It has a redesigned V-6 engine, also manufactured at the plant, and more space for passengers and cargo. “Our ability to pivot as necessary to industry challenges or product changes is what drives the success of the Alabama Auto Plant,” Whitaker says.

As part of the changeover, AAP transitioned to a new Honda corporate standard for the flow of assembly processes, he says. The Alabama team instituted a new training program for all production associates, allowing the associates to learn the new production flow and master the new processes used to build the Pilot and Pilot TrailSport models. “Our associates also worked closely with the design team in Ohio as well,” Whitaker says.

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The collaboration with the Ohio design team included a design update, the new panoramic roof on the Pilot. “This design change, introduced midway through the development timeline, could have required a new process and additional associates for assembly,” Whitaker says. “However, by working together, our team and the R&D engineers eliminated the need for a new process and manpower requirements, making the Honda Pilot easier for our associates to produce. This also resulted in a better product for the customers.”

AAP doesn’t release production figures for its models, but says the plant has the capacity to build more than 340,000 vehicles and V-6 engines each year. In addition to its pickup truck and SUV models, the plant also manufactures the Honda Odyssey minivan and V-6 engines for all its models.

The $16 million Post-Production facility, which opened in April 2023, adds accessory packages to Ridgeline, Pilot and Passport vehicles.

Most vehicles produced are sold domestically. “Approximately 8 to 10% of the Alabama Auto Plant’s production is typically allocated for global export,” Whitaker says. “However, this figure can vary due to fluctuations in the global economy.”

Last April, AAP opened its new 66,000-square-foot accessory-installation facility known as Post-Production Option. “The opening of this new facility represents an important investment in our operations and future, further strengthening our capabilities in support of regional and global Honda operations,” Whitaker says. “Honda selected us to pioneer this first-time initiative, reinforcing Honda’s commitment to our plant, our associates and our community in Lincoln.”

Honda employs more than 4,500 workers in its plant in Lincoln.

The plant employs more than 4,500 associates, and the majority of those workers are from the surrounding five-county hiring area — Talladega, Calhoun, Etowah, Jefferson and St. Clair counties. “At Honda, the key to success is something we call The Honda Way — a corporate culture based on teamwork, respect and open communication, a one-team approach that empowers associate involvement in problem-solving and innovation,” Whitaker says. “A perfect example of this approach is the introduction of all-new products like the 2023 Honda Pilot and Honda Pilot TrailSport, which underscores the exceptional adaptability of our operations and associates.”

In its vision for the future, Honda expects 80% of its new U.S. made vehicles to be electric by 2035 and 100% by 2040, Whitaker says. Currently Honda has an Ohio-based EV Hub developing electric vehicle knowledge and expertise that will be spread to North American Honda plants. “In the meantime, the gasoline vehicles we produce will see continued gains in fuel economy,” he says. “Looking ahead, you will also see an increased focus on sustainability, automation and connectivity. Specifically for Alabama, our focus continues to be on building products powered by our internal combustion engines.”

Workforce development is ongoing, Whitaker says. For example, students from the five surrounding counties were again invited to visit AAP as part of National Manufacturing Day observances. “Over the course of two days, they were able to hear from experts in their fields, get hands-on experience and take a few laps around the track with our racing simulators,” he says. “We want to demonstrate to young people, their parents, or maybe their grandparents, that today’s manufacturing is different from what they might have experienced.”

Last summer, AAP partnered with Auburn University, launching a new program that offers associates the opportunity to pursue a graduate certificate from Auburn’s department of industrial & systems engineering. “Our aim is that when associates complete these programs, they will have gained stronger leadership skills and increased capabilities in their chosen career field, aiding them to be more effective in their jobs — today and into the future,” Whitaker says.

Kathy Hagood is a Homewood-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appears in the March 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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