With eager buyers lining up for its Odyssey, Honda Motor Co. is ramping up a second North American shift six months ahead of schedule to build the minivan.
Honda of Canada Manufactur-ing Inc. now says it will have two shifts running at full production by the end of August, rather than early in 2000 as originally planned.
The Alliston, Ontario, plant began producing the minivan last year, with a targeted volume of about 60,000 a year. But surprising demand prompted Honda to move ahead a schedule that will yield 120,000 a year.
In June, U.S. retailers alone sold more than 5,600 Odysseys - nearly as many as the Ontario factory turned out the month before. Customers are encountering waits of three to four months for some models.
Achieving the speed-up required Honda to hire 600 workers in Ontario. It also meant that Honda dispensed with a scheduled six-month break until the launch of the second shift.
'Rather than take a break, we just started right into hiring and training the next shift,' said Honda of Canada spokesman Jim Miller.
Miller said the plant used associates from Alliston's other, larger production line, which builds Civics, to aid in the accelerated training.
Gauging market demand for the Odyssey and other Honda products has been difficult in recent months, factory officials have admitted. Honda Division's light-truck sales were running almost 55 percent ahead of last year for the first months of this year.
In May, American Honda Motor Co. announced it will build a new assembly plant in Alabama to supply more light trucks. In addition, Honda of Canada will boost its output by another 40,000 light trucks annually. That will put the factory at a ceiling of 170,000 cars and 160,000 trucks a year.
But Honda has not yet decided exactly what mix of products those expansions will yield. In both cases, Honda says it wants to build a new full-sized sport-utility, as well as more Odyssey minivans.
Alabama will build 120,000 trucks a year - either Odysseys or sport-utilities or both. Alliston's expansion will launch the sport-utility next year. But the demand for Canadian-made minivans also may take some of the added space.
American Honda executives have said they hope to decide on product plans by the end of this year.