Honda fights back from deadly floods

7 April 2012
, CarsGuide
Honda fights back from deadly floods
Honda Citys are flowing off the assembly line in Thailand after astonishingly fast reconstruction work.

Queensland and Thailand both suffered horrible devastation from floods in 2011. Having seen the effects the huge natural disasters in both locations I can understand the frantic efforts needed to get life back to some sort of normality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the work done by Honda to restore its factory in Thailand.

Most Honda cars sold in Australia come from a factory in Ayutthaya, near Bangkok, so the floods of October 2011 caused total disruption to supplies.

This was partly relieved by Honda Australia being able to source some cars from the Japanese factory, but many customers have been forced to wait for months for delivery.

Honda Australia was so happy to have the Thai factory back in operation it invited a small group of Australian motoring journalists to witness the official reopening of the plant. The ceremony was performed by Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand.

Without sounding too blokey, this is by far the best looking prime minister I’ve ever seen, she looks more like a fashion model than someone running the government in a troubled country.  But back to the Honda factory… 

Imagine buildings occupying an area of about half a dozen Bunnings stores, with their floors under almost three metres of water. Flood water that is flowing so hard it demolishes huge roller doors and piles hundreds of brand new Hondas into mangled wrecks in corners.

The last person to leave the factory was the general manager and he only did so after doing a compete tour of the devastated areas to make sure no one was left behind. Captains of Italian cruise liners please take note... 

Initial plans for the reconstruction were made from helicopters flying over the derelict site, followed shortly afterwards by inspections from boats, even by divers. The latter reported it was all but impossible to see under water due to mud and other debris. 

The logistics and planning for work on this scale are staggeringly complex. Ordering new equipment began almost immediately, though hindsight says 45 days elapsed before the floods receded and the work could be started. Honda is a socially aware company and all its workers were retained during the down time.

Many were employed on the clean up and repainting work and we were impressed to see that even gardens that had been destroyed have been replanted and are blooming again. 

Less than four months after the floods had receded the Honda factory was up and running again, though output is still limited at this stage. As an amusing reversal of the famous Henry Ford story that buyers could have their Model T in any colour that they liked … as long as it was black, Honda was building nothing but white Citys in the earliest runs we witnessed. 

Soon a quarter of a million Honda cars, including Australian Citys, Civics and Accords, will be pouring off the end of the assembly lines in a big variety of colours annually. Work is being carried out on preventative work in anticipation of future floods. The entire business park, of which Honda is but one of many occupants, will be surrounded by a levee bank with a length of 77 kilometres.

This gigantic job didn’t appear to be coming on too well when we looked it over, but the workers are confident it will be ready before the start of the next flood season in September. Honda Australia chief, Satoshi Matsuzawa, who led our tour of the revitalised factory, has his fingers well and truly crossed. 

As a sideline, a friend of ours in the computer business was jealous when he heard the reason for my trip to Thailand. His company sources electronic components from a factory in the same business park as the one housing Honda.

He is desperately getting parts from other countries and says it will take many months before he can again receive parts from Thailand. And if our local council can fix that pothole in the street outside our place in less than four months I will be very surprised.