Honda, Alliston, Ontario
Honda, Alliston, Ontario. Click image to enlarge

Manufacturer’s web site
Honda Canada

Join Autos’s Facebook group
Follow Autos on Twitter

By Paul Williams

Photo Gallery:
Honda, Alliston, Ontario

While many vehicle models (and some manufacturers) come and go, the Honda Civic celebrates its 36th anniversary in Canada in 2009, where it has been an unequivocal success story.

The first year for Civic in Canada was 1973, with the company selling 747 1973 models here. Annual sales in Canada have risen to 72,463 Civics in 2008, at which time it was the best selling vehicle (cars or trucks) in the country. It was also the top-selling passenger car in Canada for the 11th consecutive year.

Another milestone, the five-millionth vehicle rolled off the assembly line at Honda Canada’s Alliston, Ontario manufacturing plant in April, 2009. Fittingly, it was a Honda Civic.

Honda, Alliston, Ontario
Honda, Alliston, Ontario. Click image to enlarge

Honda Canada Manufacturing (HCM) has been a fixture in the Simcoe region of Ontario (about 100 kilometres north of Toronto) since 1986. It’s one of several Honda manufacturing facilities outside of Japan that the company has established over the past 30-plus years. It comprises two plants and a new engine manufacturing facility that opened in 2008.

Honda Canada Public Relations Manager Richard Jacobs says that even now, it comes as a surprise to many people that Honda Civics (both sedans and coupes) are built in Canada.

Honda, Alliston, Ontario
Honda, Alliston, Ontario. Click image to enlarge

“And not only Civics,” he adds. HCM also builds the Acura MDX, CSX and ZDX, with 79 per cent of our output exported to the United States.”

Operating at full capacity, HCM builds 390,000 vehicles in Alliston annually, and 200,000 four-cylinder engines. In 2008 Honda was the second largest builder of combined cars and trucks in Canada, employing 4,500 Associates. The facility sources parts from 268 North American suppliers, of which 21 per cent are Canadian.

Visitors to HCM will immediately notice that plant associates (workers) all wear the same simple white uniforms (jacket and pants). In fact, every employee at HCM wears the uniform, including senior management (Jon Minto, Vice President of HCM, addressed our group our group of invited journalists while sporting the same corporate whites). The egalitarian theme extends to the parking lot, where there are no executive spaces, and to the cafeteria, which all employees use. Senior management, therefore, are regularly accessible to workers in the day-to-day operation of the plant.

On the shop floor, associates work in teams that perform a set of tasks as each vehicle moves along the assembly line. Team members rotate through the tasks every two weeks, which has the dual benefit of reducing boredom and increasing skills and experience.

Honda Civic generations
Honda Civic generations. Click image to enlarge

Over the years, the vehicles that HCM manufactures have evolved dramatically. Back in 1973, for example, the Japan-built Honda Civic was powered by a four-cylinder, 1,200-cc engine that made 60 horsepower. The three-door hatchback car (there was no sedan) weighed a mere 640 kilograms and rode on 12-inch wheels.

By 1986, weight for the Civic Hatchback was up to around 800 kg, and the 1.5-litre engine made 90 horsepower.

At 1,200 kg, today’s Civic weighs almost twice as much as its 1973 ancestor, and is bigger in all dimensions than the (formerly) midsize Honda Accord of 1986. It uses a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that makes 140 hp and rides on 15-inch wheels (16 and 17-inch wheels are available). There is no Civic hatchback available in North America anymore, although auto writers look wistfully at the Type R GT 3-Door available in Europe, along with other interesting Civic variations that are not offered in Canada.

One thing that doesn’t seem to have changed is the design of those white uniforms. Functional as they may be, they appear to be the very same style as those worn by workers in Japanese plants 40 years ago. I think they could use an update.

Connect with Autos.ca