Hondas with 'made in USA' tag are trickling out of Ohio plant

It doesn't feel or look any different from any other Honda Accord I've been in over the past few years. What ism different, of course, is that thism Honda Accord was built in the United States - in Marysville, Ohio, to be exact - and represents the Japanese carmaker's bow to US pressure on foreign producers: ''If you sell it here, build it here.''

The 4-door Accord is the first Japanese car to be built in the United States. Next summer Nissan, Japan's No. 2 carmaker after Toyota, will start building light trucks in its new assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn., near Nashville. Bridgestone, the Japanese tire company, has also acquired a plant in the area, where it will begin turning out new tires, although the tires are not expected to go on the Nissan minitruck.

And now General Motors and Toyota appear to be on the verge of signing an agreement to produce a car, a version of the subcompact Tercel, in an empty GM assembly plant in Fremont, Calif.

If successful, Honda may build, buy, or lease a second assembly plant in the US after the Accord plant reaches full output late next year.

The million-square-foot Honda assembly plant in Ohio isn't even open - that is officiallym - although it has been producing Accords since Nov. 1.

Official opening won't happen till April, the company reports, because it wants to be sure that everything works according to script. Thus, an automotive writer should, if he doesn't mind, stay away till the official whistle blows in the spring. That's essentially what the company is saying.

This is in sharp contrast to Volkswagen's opening of its Pittsburgh-area Rabbit assembly plant in 1977, when news people and other guests, the governor of Pennsylvania, and a contingent of top VW officials from West Germany, including the chairman and chief financial officer, were on hand to see the first Rabbit, all shiny white, roll off the line and into the spotlight.

''We are not Volkswagen,'' T.Chino, president of Honda of America Inc., stresses; ''we are Honda.''

The point is, according to Mr. Chino, the company wants to show ''a factory in operation.'' When the plant built its first car in November, it was producing 20 a day, but next summer the output will be up to 300 a day.

''I think that makes sense,'' Mr. Chino asserts. ''Don't you?''

By gradually increasing production from 20 cars a day up to the scheduled 300 next summer, Honda hopes to maintain the kind of quality for which it has won plaudits for more than a decade in the US. But if this silver-hued Accord is typical, it has nothing to worry about so far as quality and attention to finicky detail are concerned.

Even though the car had a small quantity of water in the trunk after a heavy rain, a friend reports a much larger volume of water in the trunk of his 4-door Accord a few years ago - and it came from Japanm. Both lapses were blips in the production process.

After hitting 300 cars a day next summer, the Ohio plant expects to add a second shift in the fall and reach 600 cars a day by the summer of 1984.

Honda expects to sell 348,000 cars in the US this year, according to Cliff Schmillen, American Honda's vice-president in charge of sales - a 10 percent increase on what the Japanese carmaker sold here last year.

By building the Accord sedan in the US, the company gets the chance to expand the import of its other car lines, such as the brand-new Prelude, which will hit the showroom by late March. Shipments of the Prelude have been running at 3,000 a month, but this year Honda hopes to boost that figure to at least 5,000.

Mr. Schmillen says the sporty Prelude will account for about 15 percent of Honda's total sales in the US. It, too, could be built in the US someday.

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