Score One for Honda Flexible Manufacturing

Last Updated Jul 20, 2009 12:09 PM EDT

The Honda Accord started rolling off the assembly line at Honda's plant in Lincoln, Ala., which before now only manufactured truck models.

The flexibility to build a car in a truck plant or vice versa is a big competitive advantage for Honda, since it allows Honda to shift production in response to consumer demand, without having to build a new factory. In this particular case, Honda needed to free up capacity at a plant in Ohio to build more four-cylinder Accords, in response to greater U.S. demand for cars that are more fuel-efficient and affordable. Honda did that by moving production of V-6 Accords out of Ohio. The plant in Alabama already built the Odyssey minivan, the Ridgeline pickup, the Pilot SUV and V-6 engines, but it had never been used to build cars. It took Honda nine months to start producing Accords in Alabama on July 17, from the time the change was announced, back in October 2008.

If that sounds like a long time, consider that General Motors announced last month that GM will build a to-be-named small car at an existing plant in Michigan, but it will take until 2011 to start production.

Granted, that's probably not an apples-to-apples comparison. Honda moved an existing model from one plant to another. Depending on which small car GM decides to produce in Michigan, GM has a bigger task ahead of it, if it's launching an all-new model.

But the net result is that Honda is already responding to bigger demand for smaller engines, while it will take GM much longer.

Photo: Honda