Honda celebrates 30 years of production at East Liberty plant

Honda celebrated 30 years of making cars at its East Liberty auto plant on Wednesday.

“The significance of it is really to look back at where we started, with the production of a 1990 (Honda) civic,” said Keith Strickland, a division manager at the plant.

“We look at how far we have come to the models that we produce today and the changes that the plant has gone through,” he added.

The plant began with an initial investment of $380 million by Honda of America Manufacturing and started production in 1989 with 1,800 employees.

Three decades later, the plant has seen a capital investment of around $2 billion and employs around 2,800. Its annual production capacity has also increased over those years from 150,000 vehicles to 240,000, representatives of Honda said on Wednesday.

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The East Liberty plant is one of four Honda production facilities in Ohio. The company celebrated 40 years of Ohio manufacturing in August.

At the time Tom Shoupe, the executive vice president of Honda America, said the company was embracing "flexibility" at its Ohio facilities, where the automaker employs a total of 15,000 people.

The East Liberty plant is no different, said Strickland. Honda faces a changing market and a shift in consumer demand away from sedans.

However, Honda leaders have stated that they believe there is still a demand for sedans, though it may not be as high as it was in the past.

“This plant has a lot of capability for flexible models. We can basically follow consumer demand and flex our production to where customer demand is actually going,” Strickland said on Wednesday.

In East Liberty, production has transitioned over the years to models such as the 2017 Honda CR-V, the five-passenger Acura RDX luxury cross over SUV and the seven-passenger Acura MDX.

“Of course there is a ton of growth in the technology in the vehicles that we actually produce,” Strickland said. “If you look at what a 1990 civic looked like verses a 2019 MDX. It is quite a different product that we are producing today.”

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The plant has also seen several new investments and renovations take place over the past few years. That includes the introduction of a new stamping press and a 60,000 square foot expansion to accommodate the new press area earlier this year.

“Pretty much every portion of the plant has had some level of innovation, to building new technology to new products, for us to become a more efficient automaker,” Strickland said.

“Our associates come from a wide area around the plant. As we are successful and continue to produce, we are very happy and cognizant of the jobs that we provide to associates around the area as well as our supply base,” he added.

Some Dayton- and Springfield-area residents also commute to Honda’s central Ohio plants daily.

The company also includes 8,000 Miami Valley residents as workers at the Anna engine plant and a pair of Troy distribution facilities.

The number of suppliers that Honda works with has also increased substantially over the past 30 years, Shoupe said on Wednesday.

When Honda announced that it would be building its East Liberty Plant, the company was expecting to work with 35 equipment suppliers. Now the plant and other local Honda operations work with over 600 suppliers, with a large number being based in Ohio.

“It is significant for a lot of communities because they were able to have a stable job base that was added into the manufacturing sector to complement some of the other aspects of Ohio’s economy,” Shoupe said of Honda’s presence in the state.

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