Jeff Tomko, president of Honda Alabama. (Contributed)
The redesigned, Alabama-built Honda Ridgeline pickup is now rolling on the automaker’s Talladega County assembly lines.
The 4,500-worker plant Thursday officially marked the start of production for the 2017 model, with a lineoff celebration that featured more than 1,500 cheering employees.
Honda is hoping to take a bigger bite of the sizzling U.S. light truck market with the second-generation Ridgeline, which adopts a more traditional pickup profile than its predecessor.
“Today we celebrate the dedication of our Alabama team in bringing a very innovative new pickup truck to market,” said Jeff Tomko, president of Honda Manufacturing of Alabama. “I congratulate all of our associates for their commitment to our customers as the Ridgeline returns with new features that will deliver even more of what today’s truck customers want and need.”
The Alabama plant is the sole global source of the Ridgeline, along with Honda’s Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV and the Acura MDX SUV.
With the new Ridgeline rollout this year, on top of the redesigned Pilot debut last year, the Alabama plant occupies a key position in Honda’s global operations, Tomko said.
“We feel the pride that Honda has taken in us to put these products here in Alabama,” he said.
During the lineoff celebration, Ridgeline team leaders from the plant’s various departments, including weld, stamping, quality, frame assembly and others, recognized their colleagues’ dedication to the project.
An employee in the New Model Group, Kim Johnson, said the main goal is the customers. “We wanted a great truck, and Team HMA pulled it off,” she said.
Honda unveiled the new Ridgeline in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It followed the debut with a 60-second commercial featuring the updated pickup during Super Bowl 50.
Promoted as the “ultimate tailgater,” the 2017 Ridgeline has an audio system built into the truck bed, along with a 400-watt power inverter that can energize a blender, flat-screen TV or other gameday gear.
There’s also the Ridgeline’s signature in-bed trunk and a dual action tailgate hinged at both the bottom and the left side, enabling easier loading of heavy and bulky items.
More specs will be revealed closer to the sales launch, expected in June.
The first-generation Ridgeline debuted in 2005, and it joined the automaker’s Alabama assembly lines in 2009.
For the last two years, the pickup has been on hiatus from the Lincoln production lineup as Honda retooled the model.
“The new Honda Ridgeline is another example of the strength of Alabama’s auto industry,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The state’s three auto assembly operations continue to expand, with new products, new investment and new jobs, and the sector is poised for even more growth.”
Associates were excited, the day was beautiful and it was a party worthy of #TeamHMA & the all-new #HondaRidgeline! #ANewTrucktoLove
In 2015, workers at Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai together built more than 1 million vehicles, making Alabama the fifth-largest auto producing state. The industry now employs close to 40,000, while vehicles and parts are the state’s top export category.
On the horizon is more activity. Last year, auto projects accounted for a significant slice of the $7.1 billion in capital investment announced for Alabama. Among them were a major addition to the Mercedes-Benz factory in Tuscaloosa County, new growth at Hyundai’s Montgomery plant and supplier projects across the state.
Automotive is one of the target sectors of Accelerate Alabama, the state’s strategic growth plan.
Honda’s Alabama plant produced nearly 350,000 vehicles in 2015 — 150,607 Odyssey minivans; 132,718 Pilot SUVs; and 66,061 Acura MDX luxury SUVs.
Since 2001, Honda has built more than 3.5 million vehicles and engines in Alabama.