The first Japanese car made in America -- a gray, four-door Accord sedan -- rolled off a new Honda Motor Co. assembly line in Marysville, Ohio, yesterday.
The new plant has the capacity to turn out 150,000 cars a year, allowing Honda to increase its sales in the U.S. without violating "voluntary" limits on imports of Japanese cars.
Honda's decision to build cars in this country will bring pressure on other Japanese automakers to do the same or face growing demands in Congress for domestic content requirements, import restrictions and other trade protections against foreign car imports, some analysts said.
"This clearly is what the U.S. government wants," said Arvid Jouppi, an analyst in the Detroit office of Colin Hochstin Co. "The fact that Honda is opening a U.S. plant certainly indicates that the Japanese are interested in creating jobs here," Jouppi said.
Honda, with 5 percent of the domestic market, is the third largest seller of imported cars in the United States.
In 1979, the company opened a motorcycle plant in Marysville that currently produces 50,000 motorcycles a year, both for domestic and foreign sales.
With its new 1 million square-foot auto plant, built at a cost of $250 million, Honda joins Volkswagen of America, the only other foreign-based company domestically producing and selling cars. The Volkswagen plant is in New Stanton, Pa.
Honda plans to have 2,000 employes at its Marysville auto plant by the end of 1984, compared with about 350 on the job yesterday and 500 who are scheduled to be working by the end of this year
Honda said it is using 50 percent "local content"--U.S.-made parts -- in its Ohio-assembled cars, which began rolling off the line yesterday at the slow pace of 15 units per day. Only 600 of the U.S. Hondas will be built this month; another 1,200 are planned for December production.
The slow startup is aimed at ensuring quality, says Honda Motor President Kiyoshi Kawashima. "Our most important consideration is maintaining the quality that the American buyer has come to associate with Honda products," Kawashima said. He said he expects the Marysville car plant to be operating at full production capacity of 150,000 cars a year by the end of 1984.
Honda this year will sell 348,000 cars in this country -- all that the company is allowed to send to the United States under voluntary trade restrictions.