By on July 30, 2019

Honda PMC Tour 1

A full quarter of the names currently on The Truth About Cars masthead grew up in the Buckeye state, including yours truly, and plenty of contributors, past and present, have called The Heart of It All home.

The preceding message concludes the advertising section, brought to you by the Ohio Department of Tourism.

I mention this to remind the reader that there is more to the American auto industry than Detroit. Indeed, Honda has been building vehicles in Ohio for nearly forty years, with an engine plant, a transmission plant, and now three vehicle assembly plants. Journalists were given the opportunity to tour the newest facility, the Performance Manufacturing Center, to see how Acura turns out the exotic NSX – and now, the less-exotic but still remarkable TLX PMC Edition.

(Disclaimer: I drove to Marysville, Ohio from my nearby home. Acura fed me lunch.)

For three years, Acura has been building the hybrid NSX in a repurposed parts distribution facility adjacent to the four million square foot Marysville Assembly Plant, which churns out hundreds of cars like the Accord, ILX, TLX, and CR-V every day. By comparison, a serialized number badge about to be installed on a hand built NSX while I was touring had a number 2217. That’s less than a week’s production on one of the two lines at Marysville (MAP to insiders). You get the feeling that Honda/Acura executives took a look at the dismal NSX numbers and at the skill level of the team at PMC, and decided to do something about the disconnect. And thus, the PMC Edition TLX.

As a refresher, the TLX PMC Edition is basically a loaded TLX A-Spec, paired with the safety and luxury features on the Advance package — but finished at the Performance Manufacturing Center, with unique paint and trim. It’s limited to 360 cars, after which the Performance Manufacturing Center will start production on a similarly trimmed MDX PMC Edition.

Honda and Acura, per Andrew Quillin from Acura PR, “always intended to use PMC as a testbed” for new products and manufacturing techniques. The low volume certainly allows for a lower-pressure environment to try new things. Down the street at Marysville Assembly, for example, an Accord rolls off one of the two lines every 55 seconds. At max capacity, Marysville can turn out 180 of the TLX every day. Conversely, on the day we visited, the Performance Manufacturing Center expected to complete six TLX PMC models.

Honda PMC Tour MDX

We didn’t see any unpainted TLX sedans, but a pair of MDX bodies-in-white sat off to the side after delivery from the East Liberty Plant — just a few miles northwest of PMC. This is how the TLX would be delivered to PMC from Marysville Assembly — with a base primer coat, but otherwise in need of final paint and assembly.

Honda PMC Tour windscreen install 1

Honda PMC Tour windscreen install 2

While there are a few robots at PMC — including one that applies a precise bead of windshield adhesive, much of the work is completed by hand. Here we see two workers lifting the glass and placing it precisely by hand with the help of suction cups, much as your friendly local window shop does when the neighbor kid errantly tosses a baseball.

Honda PMC Tour engine install

As the PMC was initially meant for a low-volume supercar, the factory was designed for ultimate flexibility. No conveyor belts run through the facility, as each car is moved through the various stations by hand. Here, we see a pair of technicians gradually using a hydraulic lift to raise the engine, transaxle, and front suspension into place, gently guiding everything in by hand.

Honda PMC Tour torque wrench

As the NSX is primarily made from aluminum, carefully starting each fastener by hand is critical to minimize the chance of cross-threading. That process carries over to the PMC editions. Note the torque wrench, which lights up and gives haptic feedback to the operator once each bolt is torqued to spec. Each torque wrench is connected via Bluetooth to computers that log each torque value and link it to the VIN of the car. Should quality issues arise, PMC will always be able to refer to the torques for every car.

Honda PMC Tour painted bodies

Much of the time involved in getting these limited production models ready is in the paint process. Here we see a gaggle of TLX wearing the gorgeous Valencia Red Pearl exclusive to the NSX and the other cars built at PMC.

Honda PMC Tour paint

Here, a glass-lined paint booth allows customers taking a PMC tour to see their car being painted. The Valencia Red Pearl on the TLX PMC wears up to 15 layers of paint, as well as tinted clearcoat to give even more depth to the finish.

Honda PMC Tour polishing

After paint bakes and cures for a day, craftsmen work to hand polish the finish under intense lighting.

Honda PMC Tour alignment rack

The alignment bay is one where the technicians get to sit down on the job. After all, an alignment on the NSX takes roughly 45 minutes. Thus Honda designed this adjustable seat beneath the alignment platform to make the job less of a strain.

Honda PMC Tour dyno

Unlike at other Honda facilities, no PMC car leaves the building until it’s being delivered to the dealer. That means no outdoor testing that could mar the expensive paint. A four-wheel chassis dynamometer allows the car to be driven in a controlled environment, all while calibrating the all-wheel drive system and the vehicle stability control. Note the retractable fume hood behind the car — this raises from the floor to extract all exhaust gases.

Honda PMC Tour Inspection and Shaker

After the dynamometer, the car drives forward into another inspection bay, again with intense lights. Beyond inspecting the finish, the car is tested on a four-post shaker rig to ensure the suspension is up to the challenge of all sorts of roads. It probably would have been cheaper for Acura to drive each car down US 33 twenty miles to Columbus, where the always-under-construction interstates often resemble a teenager’s acne-riddled forehead — but, again, that paint. Beyond the shaker rig is a car wash — both for a wash and to check for any water leaks. At that point, the car is ready for delivery.

We did get to see a few NSX bits on the tour that was primarily meant to highlight the TLX PMC, including the robotic MIG welders here joining various subassemblies of the aluminum chassis.

Honda PMC Tour aluminum weld 1

Honda PMC Tour aluminum weld 2

Over 900 MIG welds go into each NSX frame, along with 250 self-piercing rivets to join dissimilar metals like the steel structure over the doors. Here, Susan Dulik, quality assurance manager, shows off a completed NSX spaceframe.

Honda PMC Tour NSX spaceframe

Oh, and for inspiration, a first-generation NSX Zanardi Edition sits in the lobby.

Honda PMC Tour Zanardi NSX

In a prior career, I spent a good bit of time working as a supplier in several factories in many industries, including the automotive industry. Years ago, I had nearly free rein to walk through the Marysville and East Liberty Honda plants as part of that job, working with line workers and engineers. The environment within PMC is uniquely Honda, and yet so very different.

While I never saw line workers in the mainline Honda plants looking bedraggled by the work they were doing, there was clearly no time for chit-chat considering the pace of work. Conversely at PMC, everyone looked relaxed. Not slacking, by any means, but working at a comfortable pace and putting plenty of pride into their craftsmanship. Nearly everyone at PMC has twenty years with Honda at other factories, so they were the best of the best in their old roles and have moved onto this selective position in the highest profile Honda facility in the world.

PMC is a unique blend of high-tech manufacturing and old-school craftsmanship. The cynic within me wants to say the PMC edition TLX and MDX are simply busy work to keep these experienced workers doing something productive while Acura waits for more NSX orders, but after touring the plant and talking to the workers, I see much more than that.

Acura’s Performance Manufacturing Center is a showcase for what Honda can do, and more importantly, a showcase for what the best American workers can do when given the chance. That those best American workers happen to not be in Michigan warms this Buckeye heart.

 

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn]

 

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35 Comments on “Buckeye Pride – Acura’s Performance Manufacturing Center...”


  • avatar

    Now that GM has castrated Cadillac’s performance division it is a good time for Acura to pull ahead in this area. Both Cadillac and Acura sell about 150,000 vehicles a year in America.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Honda/Acura is so far behind they had to find someone to invest in. So GM was the wise choice for AV and EV tech.

      Honda’s own self-driving development program isn’t close to anything like that. The company said last year that it likely won’t release its first Level 4 self-driving systemuntil 2025. (A “Level 4” system is one that is limited, typically to areas that have been carefully mapped. You can learn more about the “levels” of autonomous-vehicle technology here.) Motley Fool

  • avatar
    thalter

    If I were in the market for a TLX, I would seriously consider a PMC edition. For about a 10% price premium, you get a level of hand-assembly and craftsmanship normally reserved for Bentleys, Rolls Royces, and Ferarris.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Wish they would work on putting the Accord 2.0T and its 10 speed into an ILX instead.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Pretty cool that Acura does this – I just wish they had something more interesting than the TLX to do it with.

    (And, yeah, that red paint is luscious.)

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Is that cardboard box holding the hood up OHSA approved?

  • avatar
    Garrett

    Are they literally using a box as a hood prop?

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Looks pretty cool. But they salt the roads here. Can I pay a few extra dollars to get some paint on the bottom half?

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    They should have put the 6-speed manual in the PMC TLX. With no VCM, I’d have found it irresistible.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Manual trans with SH-AWD would be a sweet package to play with.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        A buddy of mine has a TL SH-AWD 6-speed with 420,000 miles. It still looks like it has 42,000 miles. He bought it from a guy with a history of trading in Accords every million miles. When he traded the Acura with 400,000 miles, he bought an Audi A7. That should work out well.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Perfect trade.

          For an Audi mechanic.

        • 0 avatar

          That was an exceptional if under rated car. The non sh awd versions
          were old school buicks and should be avoided but the sh awd cars are great sleepers.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The first owner traded it ‘early’ at 400,000 miles because it had a check engine light. We put the right coils and plugs in it and now it has gone another 20,000 miles without issue. I do recall being surprised by the OEM brand of coils. They weren’t Denso or NG. I guess if Hitachis last 400,000 miles then they’re acceptable.

  • avatar

    I respect Honda for not closing it and not firing the staff. Acura is pointless. Honda could carry a prestige name. The NSX was a Honda NSX outside the US. Speaking of which the NSX in the foyer is screaming and a monument to how the whole enterprise has fallen

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      @speedlaw,

      Whether or not Acura is pointless, the problem is that Honda has no direction. They stupidly spent a fortune developing the new NSX to appease virtue signaling scum. It doesn’t appeal to traditional Honda/Acura fans, and is sales-proof. They assembled a talented team to make a pointless car. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they came up with this make-work project to keep these people on the books. At least they could have made the TLX-PMC a stick so that people who have deep pockets and Honda preferences would have had a reason to buy it. They didn’t, because they are managing their decline as eco-fascists direct product offerings.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Strange that Honda can make money assembling cars in Ohio, but GM couldn’t make money building the similar-to-Civic sized Chevrolet Cruze and Buick Verano there, shutting down the assembly plant and discontinuing the models. Does GM even ask itself why?

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      UAW leadership parties aren’t cheap!

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Do we really know if Honda makes money building the Civic… In Canada? It’s not assembled in the US. Honda probably does make money in the States assembling mostly CUVs. FWIW, the Verano *was* assembled in Lake Orion, MI about 5+ hours away from Lordstown. Do we know if these cars will make money? It’s nice that they’re somewhat bespoke, but as others have noted, the customization isn’t all that unique.

      I find it amusing that folks on here harp constantly about Tesla and it’s assembly tents, but a Honda worker propping up a hood with a cardboard box is A-OK. It’s even more amusing that these admittedly “make-work” projects are hailed here as a good thing, but if someone else were to do it, it would be more apparent misdemeanors from the Big Three and the UAW…

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “I find it amusing that folks on here harp constantly about Tesla and it’s assembly tents, but a Honda worker propping up a hood with a cardboard box is A-OK.”

        I’m glad you’re amused. Repurposing a box compares to building cars in a tent? What is this Big Three you speak of? Volkswagen, Toyota, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance?

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          “Repurposing a box compares to building cars in a tent?”

          Why yes, they’re equally janky.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I had a TV sitting on top of a box in my condo while I was waiting for a piece of furniture to arrive. I suppose I might has well have been living in a tent like a California drug addict.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I get why this is done for the NSX but for a TLX? Custom paint job great but everything else? Meh. Is putting a brake disc on by hand make the car stop better? Does it have carbon rotors or titanium engine parts? This ain’t a hand built GT-R or AMG power plant. Having the unique bespoke interior is where the focus should be. However it appears the interior, while different, isn’t custom tailored. If you are offering a custom interior you should be able to chose all the materials and stitching. What if I want zebra seats or a shark skin dash? Come on Acura step it up for real.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Randomly-selected customer standing in front of randomly-selected Honda product on randomly-selected Honda dealer lot:

    “So the company that built this, knows how to build quality vehicles?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Huh.”

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    Unrelated to the article, but driving from the southwest corner of Ohio to the northeast corner is a seemingly never-ending slog.


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