TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Honda’s Rick Schostek says the key to sustaining his company in the U.S. and around the world will be a laser-like focus on people-pleasing.

This takes many forms, Schostek tells attendees at the Management Briefing Seminars here, but in its simplest form it means catering to those who buy Honda cars and light trucks, as well as those who build them.

“To prosper over the long run requires the ability to build and sustain a relationship with the customers that buy our products, and (with) our associates,” he says.

Schostek takes issue with another panelist's contention that new-car buyers are "fickle" creatures:

"I’d never call a consumer fickle. They put a roof over my head and food on the table. It’s our job as an OEM to satisfy the desires they have.”

While Schostek acknowledges the industry is being challenged by fragmentation, Honda is trying to better its ability to produce "dissimilar things in a similar manner.”

On the employee side of the equation, the Japanese auto maker continues to shift more work to North America, including models long engineered and built overseas, such as the Accord, Civic and CR-V.

“Frankly, the highest volume of those global models is sold here in North America,” so it made sense for Honda to localize research and development, he says.

The auto maker continues pursuing its 2014 goal of locally assembling 95% of the vehicles it sells in North America, and bringing more components stateside. To that end, it confirms it will begin volume production this month in Anna, OH, of continuously variable transmission pulley components previously made in Japan.

Honda also is assuming greater oversight of employee training. Previously relying on local organizations to train workers at its various plants, Honda announces plans to set up two Ohio training centers.

One will be located at the Anna engine plant and the other in nearby Marysville. Housed in a $35 million building opening next year, the Marysville center will train employees for work performed at Honda’s vehicle-assembly plant next door.

“The relationship between technology and our associates is really going to be the key to our future,” Schostek says.

Training is especially important, given the way technology is reshaping not only the functions and features of automobiles, but also the plant floor and assembly line. “We know this technology is coming, so it’s our obligation as a company to make sure our people have the opportunity to experience it in a safe, hands-on environment,” the executive says.

Also in the new Marysville building will be a heritage center showcasing Honda’s Ohio history, which Schostek acknowledges also is a way for the auto maker to get local kids excited about careers in automotive manufacturing. The Marysville facility will be the new home of Honda America's North American Servies unit as well. 

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com