The smallest of changes in the tire specifications on the Honda Element triggered massive changes to the factory that builds it, the suppliers who supply it and even Honda Motor Co.'s future North American production decisions.
To accommodate the tire change as the sport wagon was being developed, Honda's East Liberty, Ohio, auto plant had to modify its conveyer systems, its weld line, the factory ceiling and some of the power equipment that drives the plant.
The good news for the East Liberty plant: As a result of the unplanned changes, it can produce any sedan that Honda builds, says Bill Easdale, associate chief engineer with Honda of America Manufacturing Inc.
The change in tire specifications occurred as East Liberty manufacturing employees worked on the Element development project with Honda designers and engineers to develop the vehicle. It went into production in November.
In the midst of the project, designers requested that the Element use a 16-inch tire that is 30 millimeters wider than the planned 16-inch tire.
But the seemingly insignificant change had huge repercussions, Easdale said.
To create a wheel well wide enough to handle the new tire, designers had to scrap the entire body design. The new body was wider, taller and heavier.
To handle a heavier body, plant engineers had to modify the conveyors that run through the plant. To handle the modified conveyors, they had to make structural reinforcements to the factory ceiling and the lines that move vehicles through the plant.
Then came changes to the vehicle's components, Easdale said.
"To help you picture it, imagine a 6-inch stripe going right down the middle of the vehicle," he said. "Every component the stripe touches had to be redesigned."
That included the roof, floorpan, bumpers, grille, cockpit, engine compartment, rear seat, cargo area and various other parts.
"But according to the original look of the concept vehicle and the input we received from potential customers, the vehicle simply needed a wider tire," Easdale said. He declined to reveal how much the resulting factory overhaul cost Honda.
Said Easdale: "Once the decision was made on the design side to change that tire, we did everything we needed to support the change."