A slow ramp-up for Honda Fit

Quality, transportation problems push back Mexico-built car's U.S. sales nearly 2 months

2015 Fit: Delayed to June from April

LOS ANGELES -- The launch of the redesigned 2015 Honda Fit subcompact -- built in Honda's new $800 million factory in Celaya, Mexico -- is in the midst of a nearly two-month delay because of quality-control and transport glitches.

As of an April 9 press release, Honda was planning for an on-sale date in late April. Now the forecast is for the second week of June.

Honda spokesman Chris Martin declined to say what the quality shortcomings were, other than to say, "It's not some major rework. These are things that can be adjusted in production. It's not like we're going back to the drawing board. The car has been on sale in Japan already and is doing great."

Because the Fit for the United States is being built in a new factory by new workers, the ramp-up is slower than expected, Martin said. Even before the delay, full production wasn't expected until fall.

The delay came after Honda engineers found deficiencies during qual-ity checks on the first wave of assembled cars that reached U.S. ports and regional centers. Extra inspections are typical for a new model launch.

As a result, every assembled car was pulled aside for checks and repairs. Running changes were made to the assembly line.

All cars now coming down the line meet the quality standard, Martin said, and all Fits that reach dealers will have been double-checked.

"It was always part of the rollout plan that this could happen," Martin said. "We were not in a panic situation. We had a plan to do this if needed."

He added: "We could have shipped cars to the dealer and said, 'Check this,' but we didn't want to put that burden on the dealer."

Honda declined to give even a general description of which parts didn't measure up "because we don't need our competitors doing tear-downs to our cars," Martin said. But he noted that the Celaya plant relies more on manpower than the Fit "mother" plant in Yorii, Japan, which uses more robotics.

The Celaya plant also is testing the Mexican rail system, which has slowed deliveries from the factory to Mexican seaports.

"There were a few kinks in that process. They've all been resolved at this point," Martin said.

The Celaya plant is slated to build about 200,000 units of the Fit and HR-V subcompact crossover annually for the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Art Wright, a Honda dealer in Lehigh Valley, Pa., since 1972, said he respects that Honda "decided to take an extra step to make sure the quality is up to standard. We weren't expecting to see big numbers until June anyway."

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com -- Follow Mark on Twitter: @markrechtin

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