Honda Alabama Auto Plant Begins Production of the All-New 2023 Honda Pilot

Honda Alabama Auto Plant Begins Production of the All-New 2023 Honda Pilot

15.12.2022: Over 1,500 associates celebrate all-new Honda Pilot SUV and engine built in Lincoln, Alabama Largest and most powerful SUV in Honda history required substantial production changes Rugged Pilot TrailSport model has unique features that add to

    Over 1,500 associates celebrate all-new Honda Pilot SUV and engine built in Lincoln, Alabama

    Largest and most powerful SUV in Honda history required substantial production changes

    Rugged Pilot TrailSport model has unique features that add to manufacturing complexity

    2023 Honda Pilot is built on a new platform, with an all-new engine and other new features

Associates at the Honda Alabama Auto Plant (AAP) today celebrated the start of mass production* of the all-new 2023 Honda Pilot, which includes the Pilot TrailSport, the most off-road capable Honda SUV ever. To build the fourth generation Pilot lineup, the largest and most powerful SUV in Honda history, AAP associates were challenged with the most changes of any Honda Pilot since the first model was introduced in 2003.

AAP is the exclusive global production source for the Pilot and Pilot TrailSport, continuing the 40- year legacy of Honda's commitment to build products close to the customer. Since 2006, Honda has produced more than 2 million Pilots in the U.S. The all-new Pilot lineup was designed at the Honda Design Studio in California and developed by Honda R&D engineers at the company’s North American Automotive Development Center in Raymond, Ohio.

“The all-new Honda Pilot is an incredible product that required the determined efforts of each and every associate at the Alabama Auto Plant and I am proud of how our team overcame numerous challenges to create new value for our customers,” said Lamar Whitaker, Plant Lead, AAP.

The largest Honda SUV ever, the all-new Honda Pilot is longer and wider than its predecessor and available in five unique trim levels: Sport, EX-L, Touring, Elite and TrailSport. The mid-sized, three-row SUV is completely redesigned with a new stronger and more capable platform that also provides more passenger and cargo space. Pilot’s new rugged exterior styling is tough and aspirational with a large upright grille and a powerful stance accentuated by flared fenders, wider tracks and larger tires. Available with a new opening panoramic sunroof, the new Pilot is also the only vehicle in its class to combine 8-passenger seating and this desirable feature.

The 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport represents an important direction in Honda’s rugged light truck product lineup, resulting in a number of additional manufacturing challenges. Engineered to get weekend adventurers even further off the beaten path, the Pilot TrailSport’s special off-road features include a raised off-road tuned suspension with an inch more ground clearance, all-terrain tires, thick steel skid plates protecting the engine and fuel tank and expanded all-wheel drive system capabilities.

The most powerful Honda Pilot ever features an all-new 3.5-liter V6 engine made exclusively at AAP. The new dual overhead cam (DOHC) 3.5-liter V6 engine produces 285 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft of torque, yet boasts more complete combustion efficiency to meet stringent emissions requirements. The new engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission that is new to Pilot and built at the Honda Transmission Plant (TMP-GA) in Tallapoosa, Georgia.

Manufacturing the 2023 Honda Pilot

As the exclusive global production source for the Honda Pilot, associates at AAP faced a number of significant challenges in bringing the all-new model to market. With a new platform and engine, as well as major new features and components, building the all-new 2023 Honda Pilot required the most manufacturing change points since the first-generation Pilot was introduced in 2003, while also changing to a new global Honda standard for the flow of assembly processes. New equipment and processes were required throughout the plant, including the engine, weld, injection, paint, assembly and final inspection areas. Key changes include:

    To manage the massive changes to Pilot, AAP established a new training program involving every associate, enabling them to learn the new production flow and master the new processes used to build Pilot and Pilot TrailSport.

    Based on Honda’s new light truck architecture, Pilot features an extremely rigid platform that was engineered for TrailSport’s true off-road capabilities, along with a longer wheelbase and wider tracks. To accommodate production of the wider frame of the new platform, AAP expanded welding operations.

    Pilot adopts the front-end module (FEM) common to most Honda vehicles, but a first for AAP. The FEM is a “no bulkhead” approach to assembly that enables associates to step into the front of the vehicle and install key components. The FEM is put together on a new, crescent-shaped sub-assembly process at AAP and then installed to the vehicle on the main assembly line after associates have completed various processes inside the engine room. The FEM results in a major improvement in ergonomics for associates, reducing the number of production processes, while reducing cycle times and promoting high build quality.

    AAP associates worked closely with the Ohio-based R&D team that developed Pilot and Pilot TrailSport based on Honda’s “One Floor” approach of heightened collaboration from the earliest stages of product creation. A good example is Pilot’s new panoramic roof. The design change midway through the development timeline risked the need for a new process and additional associates for assembly. Working together, AAP associates and the R&D engineers eliminated the need for a new process, reduced investment and manpower requirements, while making Pilot easier for associates to produce and a better product for the customer.

    AAP associates began the application of acoustic spray foam for the first time on the Pilot production line to enhance cabin quietness and ride comfort in the new Honda Pilot. New robotic equipment in the paint department applies the spray foam to block off hollow body pillars to reduce the transmission of road noise into the passenger cabin. Other new efforts by AAP associates include applying additional sound-deadening "melt sheets" in key areas of the floor, and installation of a new, thicker floor carpeting for additional sound deadening.

    Working collaboratively with the Anna Engine Plant in Ohio, which is responsible for casting and machining of the new blocks and cylinder heads, final assembly of the new V6 engine is handled by associates in the engine assembly facility of AAP. The engine included multiple challenges.

        The all-aluminum V6 features a unique block and low-profile cylinder heads with high- tumble ports and a narrow 35-degree valve angle for better combustion. Due to the additional parts and processes required to build the new engine, the Alabama engine assembly department added associates to each production shift. New training processes developed by the engine department in Alabama helped associates meet the challenge of building this all-new engine.

        The new V6 engine is the first major engine platform change in the 21-year history of AAP. So, as engine plant associates learned all of the change points in the assembly of the new engine, they had to maintain production of the original powerplant that will continue to power the Ridgeline, Passport and Odyssey models built at AAP.

Solutions included a new sub-assembly process to balance manpower needs between the different engines, and use of color-coded emblems above workstations to identify critical processes to ensure each associate is on the right task.

    The rugged design of the new Pilot includes the longest and widest hood ever produced by AAP. In stamping, this required associates to rotate the orientation of the aluminum sheet by 90 degrees to fit it through the stamping press. In assembly, AAP engineers added two hood latches to ensure high levels of hood rigidity.

    An important new feature for Pilot is a first-in-class, removable second row middle seat that can be conveniently stowed underneath the rear cargo floor instead of left at home in the garage. AAP associates worked closely with development engineers to add this desirable feature without requiring major changes to vehicle floor. This resulted in a major cost reduction that avoided changes to the floor structure for different vehicle trims – ensuring adoption of the new removeable and stowable seat in the Touring an Elite models.

    The larger doors of the new Pilot required steel panels that were too big to fit in the blanking line of the stamping department. A secondary process is required to splice together two coils to make the door panel. Other Honda plants in North America outsource door panels when they are too big for the blanking line. AAP engineers modified the door carriers to handle the larger doors, achieving a significant cost reduction by insourcing this process

    Production of a refined 10-speed automatic transmission, which was tuned exclusively for Pilot, takes place at TMP-GA in Tallapoosa, Georgia.

- Honda also photos


15.12.2022 / MaP

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