Peak Year in Lincoln

It will happen. The big reveal. On Sunday, Feb. 7. The Japan-based Honda Motor Co. says that on that day, in a 60-second commercial during the third quarter of Super Bowl 50, it will introduce Americans to the newly redesigned “Next Generation” 2017 Ridgeline pickup truck.

The Ridgeline truck, which comes from Honda Manufacturing of Alabama (HMA) in Talladega County, originally debuted in 2005. With its integrated closed-box frame and dual-action tailgate, the Ridgeline won several accolades, including the 2006 Motor Trend Truck of the Year and the 2006 North American Truck of the Year. Then in 2013, Honda announced plans to pull production of the Ridgeline in mid-2014, with a goal of redesigning it and bringing it back for sale in 2016. 

Last May, Car and Driver Magazine named the Ridgeline as one of the “25 Cars Worth Waiting For.” On Jan. 11, the redesigned truck made its global debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. 

“It will once again be built exclusively here in Alabama, ” HMA spokeswoman Samantha Corona says. 

Honda’s auto manufacturing history in Alabama began in 1999 when the company announced plans to build a $400 million plant in Lincoln and hire 1, 500 associates. Two years later, in November 2001, HMA workers assembled their first vehicle, an Odyssey minivan. The following year, Honda revealed plans for a $425 million expansion of the Lincoln plant to increase both its vehicle and engine production. By the end of 2013, HMA associates reached a milestone, having built more than 3 million vehicles and engines.

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Today, the $2.2 billion Alabama plant, with more than 4, 000 associates, produces not only the Ridgeline and Odyssey minivan, but also the Pilot, the Acura MDX luxury SUV and V-6 engines that power the Odyssey, Pilot and Acura MDX. According to preliminary numbers provided by HMA in December, HMA workers in 2015 produced an estimated 349, 393 vehicles, including 150, 603 Odyssey minivans, 132, 728 Pilots and 66, 062 Acura MDX SUVs.  

Besides the plant in Lincoln, the Honda Motor Co.’s other U.S. auto manufacturing plants are located in Marysville and East Liberty, Ohio and Greensburg, Indiana. The company recently announced that it will open a fifth U.S. auto plant, called the Performance Manufacturing Center, in Marysville this year to produce the “next-generation Acura NSX supercar.”

Last April in Lincoln, HMA brought online its new, $71.4 million, 186, 000-square-foot, automated engine facility that combines two lines into one assembly line. The upgrade allows the plant to boost automation and produce up to 1, 500 V-6 engines a day. 

Also in 2015, HMA began production of the redesigned Honda Pilot SUV. The eight-passenger vehicle, which went on sale on June 18, has what the company describes as an advanced, direct-injected iVTEC V-6 engine, new styling, a more “spacious and family-friendly cabin” and more advanced technology. It is the third generation of the Pilot since the model made its debut in 2003. 

“Customer response to our all-new Pilot, combined with continued demand for the Odyssey and Acura MDX, presented a very challenging and rewarding year for the more than 4, 500 associates at our Lincoln facility, ” HMA President Jeff Tomko said in a Dec. 23 press release. “Once again, the commitment and dedication of ‘Team HMA’ enabled us to have a very successful start to our 15th year of production in Alabama.”

The Honda Pilot SUV, also built exclusively at HMA, was a finalist for the North American Truck of the Year, Corona says. 

Over the years, Honda has invested a total of $2.2 billion into the Lincoln plant, and its impact on Alabama’s economy has reached billions of dollars. In fact, a 2014 study by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama found that the plant’s output in 2014 was $6.8 billion. 

“Our achievements have been made possible through the commitment and dedication of our associates to build only the best for our Honda customers, ” says Tomko. “We are grateful for the support that Honda has experienced with our communities, our local and state leaders and our supplier partners. We are pleased that the success of our operations has had such a positive impact to the people — and to the economy — of the state of Alabama.”

Gail Allyn Short is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham.

Text by Gail Allyn Short

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