Popular media often portrays the purchase of this vehicle as a car buyer’s rite of passage, from freewheeling, young single to practical parent. But in recent years, Honda and its competitors have worked to add a coolness factor to their minivans, with sleeker designs and upgraded technologies.
Honda’s Odyssey minivan, for example, has gone through multiple design evolutions, says Mike Oatridge, vice president of the Honda Manufacturing of Alabama (HMA) plant in Lincoln. The 2017 model’s features include aerodynamic styling, power tailgate and driver assist technologies. The vehicle also has HondaVac, an in-vehicle vacuum system.
The next generation of the Odyssey minivan for 2018 made its debut at the North American International Auto Show in January.
“Through five generations, the Honda Odyssey has consistently met the evolving needs of American families, ” says Oatridge. “The most popular minivan with individual American car buyers for six years running, the Odyssey was leading again in 2016. In addition, the Honda Odyssey has been the most popular minivan with under-35-year-old buyers in every year since 2010, and American car buyers have purchased nearly 2.5 million Odyssey minivans since its 1994 debut.”
Honda’s Lincoln plant began production in 2001. Today, HMA is the exclusive supplier of the Honda Odyssey, the Pilot sport utility vehicle, the Ridgeline pickup truck and the Acura MDX luxury sport utility vehicle.
Preliminary production figures released by HMA show that workers there in 2016 assembled 130, 591 Odyssey minivans, 140, 053 Pilot SUVs, 34, 592 Ridgeline pickup trucks and 64, 302 luxury Acura MDX SUVs, in addition to vehicle engines. Last September, workers there celebrated the production of the facility’s 4 millionth vehicle and engine.
The Lincoln plant has faced the challenge in the last three years of executing four new model changes in each of the products they build, Oatridge says.
“That’s a schedule that is unprecedented among Honda plants, ” he says. “So, with all those new models, along with new technology and advanced safety features, we’ve seen the skills to develop, build and test our vehicles become just as advanced.”
One notable redesign has been that of the restyled 2017 Acura MDX, which features a diamond pentagon grille, jewel eye LED headlights and chrome dual exhaust.
Moreover, the Japanese automaker restarted production of the Ridgeline pickup truck last May at HMA, after taking the 2014 model out of its dealership showrooms to redesign the vehicle. The newly restyled and reengineered 2017 Ridgeline truck sports a dent-resistant bed, 3.5 V6 engine, 280 HP and a towing capacity of about 5, 000 pounds.
And, since opening a $71.4 million automated V-6 engine production facility in 2015, HMA associates today produce about 1, 500 V-6 engines each day, with assists from 92 advanced robots. The facility’s robotics stations produce about 9, 000 pistons daily at a cycle time of six seconds per piston.
“The V6 engine, ” says Oatridge, “has become more complex with the introduction of direct fuel injection, a technology that was in its infancy when we first started. In fact, almost all of our vehicles now have advanced technology as standard equipment — features such as side curtain airbags, back-up cameras and Bluetooth connectivity.
“Our automated engine assembly line is the most advanced facility of its kind at any Honda operation across the globe, ” he says. “This facility embodies the tremendous amount of confidence that Honda has in our Alabama team — a team that can now more quickly respond to customer demand for light truck vehicles equipped with some of the most dependable, powerful, fuel efficient and technologically advanced engines in our industry.”
Gail Short is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham.
Text by GAIL ALLYN SHORT