On the eve of its 25th anniversary of manufacturing in the state, Honda of America Manufacturing on Tuesday said a new Acura sport-utility vehicle (SUV) will be produced in Ohio, starting in 2006.

Honda has not yet specified which plant, but production of the new SUV will join a lineup built in either Marysville or East Liberty, Ohio, that includes the Accord, Civic, Element SUV and the Acura TL. Positioned in the Acura range beneath the MDX in both price and size, it will be the fourth performance and luxury Acura model produced in North America.

“Since we began auto production in 1982, our Ohio plants have focused primarily on production of passenger cars,” said Koki Hirashima, Honda of America’s president and CEO in a statement. “Along with the model mix produced at our other plants in North America, this will position us for the future – providing added flexibility to meet the needs of our customers for both cars and light trucks.”

Honda spokesman Ed Miller told Reuters production of the vehicle is not expected to result in more jobs at Honda. But he said it will help provide job security as market demand changes.

“In today’s competitive business, it’s become mandatory to be able to produce multiple numbers of vehicles on the same assembly line,” Miller said.

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Meeting with journalists after announcing US production of the new SUV at an event in Detroit, Honda’s president and chief executive Takeo Fukui told Reuters Honda’s focus was on using its highly flexible plants and fuel-efficient engines to produce vehicles like the new Acura SUV and an upcoming sport-utility pickup.

Among the top six automakers in the United States, Honda is the only one without a pickup, the news agency noted. But Fukui reportedly said the company has no current plans to launch a full-fledged pickup truck in the US market.

Reuters noted the company has said the sport-utility truck “combines the utility of an open cargo bed with the interior space and functionality of an SUV” and is expected to show a production version of the SUT in the spring.

In a recent research report cited by the news agency, Merrill Lynch analyst John Casesa said the new SUT, to be based on the Honda Pilot platform, “should be popular among Honda loyalists.”

On the car side, Reuters said, Honda is preparing for the introduction of a petrol-electric hybrid version of the popular Accord sedan this autumn which will join hybrid versions of the Civic and Insight cars in Honda’s portfolio. Honda builds its hybrids in Japan.

Honda has not announced pricing for the Accord hybrid, but analysts reportedly say it likely will be roughly $2,000 more than the base price for a conventional Accord. A fully loaded Accord EX sells for about $28,400.

Fukui told Reuters Honda’s hybrid engines are a better match at present for smaller vehicles and not hybrid versions of SUVs such as the new Ford Escape and the upcoming Lexus RX400h.

However, asked about Honda’s hybrid plans, Fukui told the news agency: “I would imagine that more vehicles will have hybrid versions.”

Reuters noted that, for the first eight months of 2004, Honda’s US vehicle sales were roughly flat from a year ago while Toyota was up 9% and Nissan, riding the launch of several new vehicles, was up 23%.

Honda began US vehicle assembly 25 years ago this coming Friday. On September 10, 1979, an Elsinore motorcycle rolled off the line. Three years later, Honda became the first Japanese maker to produce cars in America – the 1982 Accord sedan.

Honda has now invested more than $US8 billion in 12 plants and other operations in North America and nearly eight of 10 vehicles it sells there are made in those plants.

Hirashima said workers in Ohio have been involved in major innovation projects, focusing on new levels of quality, flexibility and efficiency for the future.

“This has increased our flexibility to produce a greater variety of cars and light trucks in Ohio”, he said. “Today, even after 25 years, our plants remain among the most efficient and competitive.”