Honda is preparing to open their first new auto manufacturing facility in 23 years. The plant is located just north of Tokyo in the rolling green hills of Yorii. It is one of the most technologically advanced auto manufacturing facilities in the world, making use of new automation technologies that can be used as a prototype for all new Honda manufacturing facilities.However, Honda executives believe it will be a long time before they build another facility like the one in Yorii. The trend now is to build the vehicles in the market where they will be sold, and the Japanese auto market is in serious decline. Though the new facility is less costly to operate, due to lower power consumption and labor, this type of advanced facility is much more costly to build. Since most of the new vehicles Honda expects to build in the coming years will be built in developing nations where labor costs are low, it wouldn’t make sense to invest in such an efficient factory.
The Yorii plant was announced in 2006, but was delayed twice. The first delay was due to the global economic recession, and the second delay was due to the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the Tokyo area in 2011.
The new Yorii facility improved stamping efficiency by 40 percent, energy consumption by 40 percent, cut the number of production processes by 9 percent, cut the number of tire mounting robots needed from four to two, and features an indoor testing facility so that every vehicle can be tested off the line regardless of the weather.
At a recent media tour of the new facility, the president of Honda, Takanobu Ito, told the press, “We must advance the technology of manufacturing, not just the technology of our products.” The plant will build the Honda Fit and Honda Fit Hybrid vehicles, and has reduced the cost of manufacturing a hybrid to within a few thousand dollars of producing an ordinary vehicle, an extraordinary feat in itself.