Honda launches volume production of its ’23 Pilot midsize SUV at its Alabama Auto Plant (AAP), featuring a new platform and all-new engine also built at the Lincoln, AL, factory.
Described as the largest and most powerful SUV Honda has ever built, the fourth-generation model challenged the plant’s 1,500 associates with the most changes of any Pilot since the first model was introduced in 2003, the automaker says.
The all-new Pilot is longer and wider than its predecessor and is available in Sport, EX-L, Touring, Elite and TrailSport trim levels. The three-row SUV’s new stronger and more capable platform also provides more passenger and cargo space, Honda says.
Exterior highlights include a large upright grille, flared fenders, wider tracks and larger tires. The ’23 Pilot is available with a new opening panoramic sunroof, making it the only vehicle in its class to combine this feature with 8-passenger seating, the automaker says.
The SUV’s 3.5L V-6, made exclusively at AAP, produces 285 hp and 262 lb.-ft (355 Nm) of torque, yet meets stringent emissions requirements thanks to more complete combustion efficiency. The new engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission that is new to Pilot and built at the Honda Transmission Plant in Tallapoosa, GA.
The TrailSport offers exceptional off-road capability, Honda says. Special features include a raised off-road tuned suspension with 1 in. (25 mm) more ground clearance, all-terrain tires, thick steel skid plates protecting the engine and fuel tank and expanded all-wheel-drive technology.
“The all-new Honda Pilot is an incredible product that required the determined efforts of each and every associate at the Alabama Auto Plant, and I am proud of how our team overcame numerous challenges to create new value for our customers,” Lamar Whitaker, AAP Plant Lead, says in a news release.
The ’23 Pilot’s new platform and engine, as well as important new features and components, required new equipment and processes throughout the Alabama plant, including the engine, weld, injection, paint, assembly and final inspection areas. Among the key changes:
- AAP established a new training program involving every associate, enabling them to learn the new production flow and master the new processes used to build Pilot and Pilot TrailSport.
- Based on Honda’s new light-truck architecture, Pilot’s extremely rigid platform was engineered for TrailSport’s off-road capabilities, along with a longer wheelbase and wider tracks. AAP expanded welding operations to accommodate production of the new platform’s wider frame.
- Pilot adopts the front-end module common to most Honda vehicles, but a first for AAP. The module is a “no bulkhead” approach to assembly that enables associates to step into the front of the vehicle and install key components. The module improves ergonomics for associates, reduces the number of production processes, reduces cycle times and promotes high build quality.
- To enhance cabin quietness and ride comfort, new robotic equipment in the paint department applies acoustic spray foam to block off hollow body pillars to reduce road noise in the passenger cabin. The new Pilot also uses additional sound-deadening "melt sheets" in key areas of the floor, and new, thicker floor carpeting for additional sound deadening.
- The ’23 Pilot has a first-in-class, removable second-row middle seat that can be stowed underneath the rear cargo floor. This feature was added without requiring major changes to vehicle floor, resulting in a major cost reduction that avoided changes to the floor structure for different vehicle trims.
While described by Honda as a midsize SUV, the Pilot is classified by Wards Intelligence as a large CUV. The Toyota Highlander was the runaway sales leader in the segment in first-half 2022 with 117,403 deliveries. The Kia Telluride was second with 46,893 sales, followed by the Pilot (46,435), Chevrolet Traverse (44,306) and Hyundai Palisade (43,637).