Why Honda’s Ohio plant upgrade is a big deal

With all the big news in electric vehicles lately, such as Ford’s $500 million investment in Rivian and Tesla’s $700 million first-quarter losses, you might have missed the news that Honda will retool one of its assembly lines at the company’s Marysville, Ohio plant to make electrified vehicles. This is actually a pretty big deal. Here’s why.

Despite Honda’s rank as the fourth-biggest seller in the United States, and seventh globally, it’s an incredibly pragmatic company. Honda doesn’t make big bets on moonshots, like Nissan did with the Leaf. Its current electrified U.S. lineup has the Insight and Accord Hybrid, plus the Clarity (more on that in a bit). Acura, meanwhile, offers the RLX sedan and MDX crossover in Sport Hybrid, trim along with the NSX.

Of those offerings, only the Clarity offers full battery electric transportation in either its full EV spec or with the plug-in version (it’s also available as a hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicle). And the Clarity Electric, introduced in 2017, offers an EPA-rated electric range of 89 miles. That’s only 16 miles more than the 2011 Nissan Leaf. By 2017, the first generation of Nissan’s EV was up to 107 miles of range and the 238-mile Chevy Bolt EV was on sale. The Clarity Electric can only be obtained in California or Oregon, and only on a lease. Honda took a cautious approach here, giving the Clarity a smaller battery pack to minimize the cost to manufacture and only selling it where it helps for emissions compliance.

Honda marysville auto plant new accord red

In other words, Honda is not the kind of company willing to lose a lot of money to be the first mover in the space, especially post-2008 financial crisis. The high-profit, high-volume crossovers like the CR-V, Passport, and Pilot are internal combustion only. Learning a lesson from the slow-selling CR-Z, Honda’s not building anything people aren’t asking for, or at least not many of those cars.

To revamp part of Marysville, home of the CR-V and Accord—Honda’s first and third-best selling vehicles—says Honda sees a big change coming, that some form of electrification will soon be a high-volume play. Honda has stated that two-thirds of its lineup will be electrified by 2030. Consider this the next major step towards that goal.

Still, it’s unclear if Honda’s plans are referring to hybrids, plug-ins, or full battery electric. Honda does not lack for current technology. The hybrid system in the Accord, Insight, and Clarity is a unique setup that delivers results—the Insight has the same 52 mpg combined rating as the standard Toyota Prius. The company also has a long history of innovative engineering.

So what will be built at Marysville? We reached out to representatives at Honda for clues, but got no response. It’s safe to say that the next CR-V, expected in 2021, will offer a hybrid option. It could be that Honda will update the Clarity Electric or Plug-In and start building it Stateside. Another option is for a hybrid Acura ILX or TLX, also built at Marysville, because the higher sticker price for the luxury brand’s offerings makes it easier to absorb some of the extra costs that come with electrification.

Whatever electrified Honda rolls off the updated Marysville line, one thing is clear: It won’t be a toe-dip. It means Honda sees a need for higher production of electrification. And when a cautious company like Honda makes this decision where it builds its best-selling cars, that means industry-wide change is just around the corner.

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