In the first move by a Japanese automaker to build its cars in the United States, Honda Motor Co. announced today that it will begin turning out models at a new Ohio plant in 1982.
Honda President Kiyoshi Kawashima said the plant will mean an investment of about $200 million and will produce about 10,000 cars a year. It will be built in a Columbus, Ohio, suburb where the company already is turning out motorcycles.
Two other Japanese automakers are considering construction of auto-making plants in the U.S. and are expected to announce their plans soon, according to industry sources. They are Toyota and Nissan, which makes the Datsun car.
These moves follow a period of intense appeals by U.S. officials for the Japanese to begin producing cars in the United States, which has become one of their biggest markets.
Japanese auto exports have increased swiftly in the past year and now account for nearly a fourth of all the cars sold in the United States. The Japanese government had feared this would lead to protectionist demands in the American industry.
The Ohio plant will produce annually about 10,000 "Civic" or "Accord" model subcompact cars. It will employ about 2,000 workers and supervisory personnel, most of them American, the company said.
Initially, most of the major components, including engines, will be supplied from Japanese manufacturers, but in the future more and more of the parts will be American-built, the company added.
All three Japanese automakers had indicated in recent months they were seriously considering American production. They had not been expected to announce plans until next spring.
They reportedly were encouraged by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which had been eager to avert a new trade war by replying positively to American pleas for Japanese investment. MITI applauded the Honda move today in a statement describing it as a step toward stabilizing U.S.-Japanese economic relations.
According to MITI's statistics, the Japanese companies had sold 1.8 million vehicles in the U.S. as of the end of November. That was an increase of 7 percent over the first 11 months of 1978.
Automotive News, the U.S. trade journal, has reported that foreign carmakers sold more than 2.1 million vehicles in the U.S. last year. They amounted to about 22 percent of the total market, a larger share even than the Ford Motor Co.'s 21 percent. General Motors sells 50 percent.
As a rule of thumb, Japanese automakers have said that American protectionist pressures begin to grow whenever foreign cars take more than 20 percent of the American market.
The rapid growth of Japanese exports came about for several reasons. One is the steady depreciation of the yen against the U.S. dollar during much of 1979, a trend which made the Japanese exports cheaper to buy in America. The dollar had fallen to a low point of 175 yen in the fall of 1978 but rebounded during most of 1979 and is now worth about 235 yen.
Another reason is the growing demand in the U.S. for efficient compacts which get good mileage in a new era of high-priced oil.
Both of these factors were weighed in Honda's plans. Japanese automakers expect growing competition in the future from American companies, but the Japanese assume these compacts will not be on the market in large numbers until 1983.