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Thais that bind Hondas

Quality finish: A Honda Accord rolls down the production line at Honda's Thai plant.

Honda says Thai take-out is about as good as Japanese, and better than its US cars

Honda logo20 Aug 2010

HONDA says that its 14-year-old manufacturing facility in Ayutthaya, Thailand, ranks almost as highly as the Japanese plants for quality and eclipses some of the company’s western production sites.

This is despite a massive gap in automation levels between Thailand and Japan. For example, Civic automation at Ayutthaya hovers at about the 50 per cent while the same model from Japan is more than 90 per cent.

Speaking to the Australian journalists in Bangkok this month, a Honda Asia spokesman revealed that the Ayutthaya plant sits in the middle ground in the Japanese brand’s internal ranking system.

“It is up in the low 90s – I would say 90 to 92 per cent,” the Honda spokesman said.

“Japan is 95 per cent plus, while the Marysville facility in the North America is between 80 and 90 per cent.”

Honda invited GoAuto to tour the plant located about 200km north of the Thai capital.

The Australian arm is keen to dispel any suggestion that the quality of its Thai-sourced vehicles rates below that of other Honda manufacturing sites.

 center imageFrom top: Honda Civic, Honda City and Honda CR-V.

According to spokesman Mark Higgins, there have been no complaints or negative comments from owners of Thai-built Hondas.

“I don’t think that many people realise that their cars even come from Thailand,” he said.

“And as long as they are completely happy with their Honda, I don’t think they would care.”

Opened in 1996, the Ayutthaya facility started exporting vehicles to Australia in late 1998. It replaced a smaller site that began making Hondas in 1983 – the same year that the Marysville factory churned out the first of a million Accords primarily for the American market.

Ironically, the first Thai Honda to head Downunder – the 1999 model-year sixth-generation Accord sedan – replaced the same version that was briefly imported from the US in 1997 and 1998.

Since then, more than 215,000 Hondas have arrived in Australia from Thailand – including most Civic sedans since 2004 (the Hybrid continues to come out of Japan due to its specialised petrol-electric powerplant), the GD and current GE Jazz from late 2005, the RE CR-V released in 2006 and the Jazz-based City light-car sedan from 2009.

Only the Civic Type R (UK), Odyssey, Accord Euro and Legend (Japan) hail from elsewhere, meaning that today Thailand is responsible for more than 80 per cent of all Hondas sold in this country.

The Ayutthaya plant – employing 5232 people – is regarded as a ‘green’ production facility thanks to various eco measures designed to minimise its environmental impact, and produces upwards of 240,000 vehicles a year.

It relies on 179 Thai suppliers (of which 137 are joint-venture concerns with Japanese companies), and exports its vehicles to 37 countries.

Honda says that despite the relatively low automation levels, using more people employs more of the community, and leads to other benefits since robots need regular trained servicing furthermore they cannot always provide the level of flexibility that a person can.

It is part of Honda’s holistic ASEAN manufacturing process that relies on a number of different countries to supply components. These include automatic transmissions from Indonesia and manual gearboxes sourced out of the Philippines.

In fact, Indonesia might be the next ASEAN supplier of CBU (completely built up) Hondas to Australia.

The current-generation Freed seven-seater people mover based on the City platform has recently commenced exports from Indonesia.

According to Honda, a variation of the Freed, or other future Indonesian-built models, may end up being imported into Australia.

Big on Thai take-outTHE influx of models to Australia since 2005 reflects the Free Trade Agreement Australia has with Thailand, which came into effect in January 1, 2005.

In three years from 2004, the number of Thai-built Honda vehicles soared from 5700 to 51,424 units.

However, it is worth noting that while more than 700,000 Thai-made vehicles have been sold in Australia since, the flow has been one way, with virtually no Australian made vehicles heading to Thailand save for several hundred Holden Commodore and Statesman and Ford Territory vehicles.

Except for Chinese utilities, Nissan D40 Navara flagship – the ST-X – and upcoming Volkswagen Amarok, all one-tonne utilities sold in Australia are Thai sourced.

And it isn’t just the Asian car-makers either. Holden gets its Colorado from Thailand, while Ford sources its Ranger ute from the kingdom too. From the end of this year, Thai-made Ford WT Fiesta hatch and new sedan will join the flow.

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