It is too soon to say high gasoline prices are causing a stampede toward fuel-efficient compact cars, but Honda of America Mfg. Inc. (HAM) officials nonetheless say some new tweaks to its already highly efficient New Manufacturing System allowed the company to crank out the all-new Civic sedan well in advance of the original start of production date.

The official start of '06 Civic sales long was set for Sept. 15, but Honda dealers started selling the new Civic on Sept. 9, well ahead of schedule, because dealer supplies of the outgoing '05 models were running perilously low.

Even though Honda's East Liberty, OH, plant was able to begin building production models well ahead of the originally scheduled SOP, there was no way it could supply the Civics needed for the accelerated Sept. 9 on-sale date.

The first '06 Civics to reach dealers were produced at Honda's Suzuka, Japan, plant — testimony to how quickly Honda's manufacturing system can adapt to change. Japan is one of 13 countries in which the new, eighth-generation Civic will be built by the end of this model year.

Meanwhile, with early demand handled by the imported '06 Civics, HAM production now is sufficiently ramped-up to take over.

“You may still find a few Japan-built Civics at dealers,” says a HAM source in mid-September, “but those should be just about gone.”

Because Honda wanted to launch Civic sedans and coupes simultaneously, the East Liberty plant is the primary source for U.S.-market Civic sedans, although small numbers are being built at Honda of Canada Mfg.'s Alliston, Ont., plant, as well as Suzuka.

The coupe and Si high-performance coupe also are being built at Alliston, says Mark Pafumi, principal engineer, NVH & vehicle research, Honda R&D Americas Inc. The Si coupe will go on sale in December.

Regardless of whether there will be a pubic clamor for fuel-efficient cars, Honda is aiming for nothing more ambitious than U.S. Civic sales equal to last year's total of 309,196. That means daily production of about 950 Civic sedans at East Liberty.

Despite confidence the edgier new Civic lineup will win back some of the younger customers lost by the benign outgoing model — and that the markedly more fuel-efficient new Civics may be more attractive if gasoline remains pricey — Honda officials do not predict a potential increase in U.S. Civic sales.

HAM engineers say they also continue to refine NMS, the company-wide manufacturing-process standardization initiative launched in 2000 to adopt common flexible tooling and processes at every Honda assembly plant (see WAW — Oct. '00, p. 103).

Along with manufacturing efficiencies enabled by NMS are ongoing improvements in the new-model development process, says Chris Poland, Civic project leader at the East Liberty plant.

Poland says a special development tool, dubbed Digital Manufacturing Circle, increases the speed and efficiency of new-model development, largely through a reduction in the need for test prototypes.

Poland credits DMC, a system that allows engineers throughout the Honda global engineering empire to share 3-dimensional design data, with enabling Honda to be “more aggressive” with the '06 Civic's launch schedule.

Honda, already renowned for the speed and predictability of its new-model development programs, was able to shave between three and six months off Civic's development cycle, engineers here say.

Honda engineers, Poland adds, used DMC to efficiently process more than 4,000 design-change requests from engineers all over the globe. The DMC system also meant Honda was able to ramp-up '06 Civic manufacturing a heady 60% faster than the '01 model.