Building Honda’s First Dedicated Auto Plant

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<< 7. Building Honda’s First Dedicated Auto Plant

The existing plants at Saitama, Hamamatsu, and Suzuka lacked sufficient scale and the facilities needed to implement real world auto production. Although they had mass-production lines, many critical processes were still performed manually. Accordingly, it resulted in new challenges, chief among them being higher costs.

Mr. Fujisawa explained the need for a dedicated auto plant in a January 1964 special edition of the Honda Company Newsletter:

I believe we can only produce a combined total of 5,000 units per month, at most, for the T360 and S500, using the current facilities. So, to increase our volume of production, we have to expand those facilities.

Honda was busy looking for a suitable site for plant construction, but with a different purpose in mind: the company was planning to move its manufacturing machinery factory out of Shirako Plant. On September 2, 1963, the Manufacturing Machinery Factory’s Special Planning Office was formed, and the search for a site began in earnest. The staff set its eyes on the second candidate site in the Kawagoe/Sayama Industrial Park, located in Saitama Prefecture, and began negotiations to purchase a lot covering approximately 224,808 square meters.

Located on the borders of Kawagoe and Sayama, the industrial park covered an impressive 2,486,112 square meters. Moreover, it was close to the Seibu Shinjuku railway line’s Minami-Otsuka Station, close to the newly opened Metropolitan Belt Highway/National Highway Route 16. Furthermore, the planned Kan-etsu Motor Expressway was expected to further enhance park access. Since it was close to the city of Wako, it would be convenient in terms of land transportation and employee commuting.

The plan to build an automobile plant finally emerged during final negotiations for the purchase of the land. In February 1964, a special planning office was established at Saitama Factory in order to examine the possibility of building such a plant.

Several key conditions, however, were identified with regard to the construction of Honda’s first full-scale, mass production auto plant:

[1] Since a car has many parts (nearly ten times as many
as a motorcycle), the location must be close to Honda’s key parts suppliers, who have been doing business with Honda since its establishment.

[2] The experience with the initial T360 and S500 produc-
tion determined the need for a collaborative effort between the research/development side and the manufacturing side. Therefore, the location must be close to the R&D Center.

[3] The location should provide for easy distribution, facili-
tating the delivery of parts and shipment of completed cars.

The scheduled site of construction for the new manufacturing machinery plant satisfied all these conditions. The location would also ensure collaboration with the Production Engineering departments. For these reasons, Honda decided to build its automobile plant next to the manufacturing machinery plant. The special planning offices for the two plants were merged in June, the same year that the Sayama Special Planning Office was established. In anticipation of the auto facility’s future expansion the site area was increased to 380,190 square meters, an area four times that of Saitama Factory.

The overall concept of the plant was based on Suzuka Factory, a state-of-the-art plant with an air-conditioned, windowless building. To that were added specific requirements, such as a dedicated automobile plant. Just next to the automobile assembly plant (housing the welding, painting, final assembly, and final inspection lines) were the manufacturing machinery plant, which would make the production equipment used by the assembly plant, and the metal casting plant, which would accommodate future needs for in-house pressing, casting, and resin processing. Cafeterias, along with facilities for power generation and employee-welfare, were laid out within the premises, and the entire configuration was divided into three distinct areas.

The land was improved in May 1964, and construction began in June. The entire facility was completed in November.

“We had only a short time once the plan was finalized in order to begin the scheduled plant operations, so the work had to be rushed,” remembered Katsumi Hosoda, a member of the Manufacturing Machinery Factory’s Special Planning Office, who was involved in the project from site selection through construction. “To meet the construction schedule, we visited the Business Enterprise Bureau of Saitama Prefecture every day, asking them to expedite certain portions of the Kawagoe/Sayama Industrial Park’s development plan. The requested work included the development of the plot purchased by Honda, the piping of a drainage main to the Iruma River, construction of access roads leading from National Highway Route 16, and the paving of roads around the Honda site. So, at the time Honda was ready to begin operating its plants, other plots were still under development.

“For employee commuting, we also wanted the Seibu Railway to build a new train station near the plants before they began operation,” said Hosoda “It wasn’t that easy negotiating with Seibu to ask that they accommodate our request.”

However, the Seibu Shinjuku Line’s Shin-Sayama Station, temporarily housed in a prefabricated structure, opened on November 15. The manufacturing machinery plant completed its relocation from Shirako and immediately began operating.

In November, production of the S600 was transferred from Hamamatsu Factory to the new auto assembly plant. The first production car was completed at Sayama Factory on December 1, signaling the start of Honda’s first dedicated automobile plant. In April of the following year, T360 production, too, was transferred from Saitama Factory.

Sayama Factory was given a unique role among all Honda factories, serving as a dedicated final assembly plant for the production of automobiles.
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