TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co. is looking to grow its North American manufacturing base into a low-cost source of vehicles to be exported globally, as part of its efforts to expand its production footprint outside of Japan.
The strong yen is hurting Honda's ability to profitably export vehicles from Japan.
"Right now, we are asking the U.S. to take on a lot of our production, and exports as well," said Honda CEO Takanobu Ito. "Already they have been doing some exports to the Middle East, but we are asking them to do more exports around the world."
Executives declined to say how many vehicles Honda wants to export from North America. In 2010, Honda exported 32,978 cars from its U.S. plants to more than 20 countries.
Currently, Honda's Japanese factories produce about 1.2 million to 1.3 million units annually, of which 300,000 to 350,000 units, or about 25 percent, are exported around the globe. Ito wants to shrink that share to between 10 and 20 percent.
"So even while the Japanese market is shrinking, we are going to try to reduce the amount of exports from Japan," Ito said. "We are trying to optimize our volume of exports."
The weak dollar and Mexican peso put Honda in a position to exploit its factories in North America. The plants are finally back to full production after Honda's supplier base was wracked by flooding in Thailand.
Last month, Honda added a second shift at its Greensburg, Ind., plant that manufactures the Civic, generating another 100,000 units of annual capacity.
In 2012, Honda will have both its lines at Marysville, Ohio, running two-shift production for the first time since a slowdown in early 2009 in response to the recession.
Honda's $800 million plant in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico, will begin production in 2014, eventually making 200,000 subcompact cars on the Fit platform.
American Honda Motor Co. President Tetsuo Iwamura said Honda has no plans to build factories in new locations, but noted that Honda bought plenty of land for the Indiana and Mexico factories to expand if needed.
He said that some U.S.-specific models, such as the Odyssey and Pilot, and some Acura models also are in demand in other markets. He added, "If we see the kind of opportunity to sell more subcompacts, Mexico could be a good place to produce more cars."