TrailSport ushers in Honda’s third decade in Alabama

Honda kicked off production of the 2022 Passport TrailSport late last year, joining the Pilot TrailSport already being produced in Lincoln.

The 2021 Honda Passport, made in Lincoln.

Late last year, Honda’s Alabama Auto Plant announced the start of mass production of the new 2022 Honda Passport and Passport TrailSport in Lincoln.

“Our Honda team has been building light trucks in Lincoln for over two decades, and we’re incredibly proud to apply that manufacturing know-how and skill to every new model we produce,” said Vice President and Alabama Auto Plant Lead Bob Schwyn. “Starting production of the new 2022 Passport and Passport TrailSport is a great way to kick off our next 20 years of Honda Manufacturing in Alabama.”

Honda’s Alabama Auto Plant has been producing the Honda Passport since 2018. In addition to Passport and Pilot, the plant is also the global production source for the Honda Odyssey minivan and the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck.

The new Passport TrailSport combines Passport’s strong unibody construction, independent front and rear suspension and available class-leading torque-vectoring AWD system with TrailSport exclusive exterior and interior styling. TrailSport features include a unique grille, 18-inch black alloy wheels, tires sporting a rugged sidewall and the distinctive orange-on-black TrailSport badge on the grille and tailgate.

The Passport TrailSport joins the Pilot TrailSport, which began production last October.

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So what else is in the works for Honda Alabama in the coming five or so years?

“The auto industry is highly competitive,” a Honda spokesman says, “so we are unable to discuss specific plans or products.”

But here is a hint: “With the opportunities related to an electrified future,” the spokesman added, “there has never been a better time to work in the auto industry.”

At the end of last year, Honda has made more than 5 million vehicles and engines in a plant with a cumulative capital investment topping $2 billion. And it contributes more than $12 billion annually in economic impact on the state. The Alabama Auto Plant typically exports between 8% and 10% of its production, but the company notes that the figure is fluid because of fluctuations it the global economy.

The Lincoln plant has the capacity to manufacture 340,000 vehicles and engines annually and employs more than 4,500 workers, most of whom live in the five surrounding counties: Talladega, Etowah, Calhoun, Jefferson and St. Clair.

Schwyn says he is proud of the impact Honda has had in the surrounding communities and state.

“Since the first vehicle rolled off our assembly lines in 2001, the Alabama Auto Plant has become Honda’s primary light truck production source, as well as the source for the V-6 engines that power them.

“We’ve also grown a great deal. In addition to our first production line and state-of-the-art engine assembly plant, we have expanded our operations a number of times, including adding a second assembly line.

“We have also expanded logistics facilities,” Schwyn says. “We’ve built six different vehicles over the years, including multiple generations of many of them that includes the Honda Odyssey, which is the first vehicle produced at AAP.”

Schwyn says the plant’s success “has always been the result of good relationships, with our team of associates, our community, our business partners and the state of Alabama. This, along with finding new, innovative ways to meet and exceed the growing demands of our customers, is what drives Honda.”

There are challenges ahead, Schwyn says, which include finding, attracting and preparing the next generation of workers.

“We recognize that the country’s future will depend on our ability to make things,” he says. “We see it as our responsibility as a manufacturer to help governments and educators develop programs that motivate today’s students to pursue manufacturing careers and equip them with the needed skills.”

Other challenges facing Honda and the rest of the auto industry include dealing with and managing the microchip shortage and supply chain disruptions.

Semiconductors have become increasingly critical for a variety of automotive applications, from fuel-pressure sensors to digital speedometers to artificial intelligence-driven tools that assist with parking, finding the next fuel station or alerting the driver when an oil change is needed. Without microchips, the auto industry’s post-pandemic recovery has stalled, as manufacturers are unable to complete orders.

“Honda continues to manage supply chain issues related to a number of factors, including the impact from COVID-19, congestion at various ports and the microchip shortage,” Schwyn says. “Our purchasing and production teams continue to carefully manage the supply of parts to run production and meet the needs of our customers. Some of our North American operations will adjust production based on parts supply availability.”

Bill Gerdes is a Hoover-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appeared in the March 2022 issue of Business Alabama.

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