Bye Big Red, hello Pioneer
Honda’s new UTV line brings 65 jobs to South Carolina
Honda of South Carolina Mfg. Inc. (HSC) officials knew they had a hit on their hands with the all-new 2014 Pioneer 700 side-by-side when 45 of its U.S. Powerhouse dealers headed to Timmonsville, S.C., to test ride the machines. And with the Big Red no longer in production due to the launch of the Pioneer, there was no reason for concern.
“The Pioneer is night and day better,” said Bill Savino, manager of motorcycle press for American Honda Motor Co., Inc. “The dealers were blown away by it, absolutely blown away.”
The same could be said for the nearly 900 associates who gathered on a picture-perfect June day in Timmonsville for the Pioneer’s mass production line-off ceremony. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley joined the Pioneer as the star of the show, celebrating the company’s $27 million investment in the plant to add the side-by-side line. That expansion also brought 65 jobs to the rural community.
Haley hopped in the Pioneer driver’s seat alongside Brian Newman, president and CEO of HSC, for a quick ride around the inside of the plant following the line-off ceremony. Katsumi Fujimoto, business managing officer for North America, Bob Gurga, vice president of American Honda motorcycle sales, S.C. Sen. Hugh Leatherman, S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt and others celebrated the event with remarks.
And while the Pioneer, available in both 2-seat and 4-seat configurations, was the first Honda side-by-side from its origins to be designed and manufactured in the U.S., the marketplace can expect more such offerings in the coming years.
“Pioneer is our big step into side-by-side. Big Red got us in the door, allowed us to put our toe in the water,” said Kevin Aschenbach, off-road media coordinator for American Honda Motor Co., Inc. “We’re ready to jump in. Pioneer definitely represents us jumping in full speed ahead. We’re on the gas as far as development goes, and looking at other utility- and sport-based areas.”
HSC also marked its 15th anniversary with the event. Honda produces more than 20 ATVs at HSC, and the former location of the Honda PWC line now hosts the side-by-side production lineup.
The event also featured a ride on part of HSC’s durability testing grounds outside the plant. There, the Pioneer 700-4’s convertible seating arrangement took center stage. It can easily be converted from 2-seat to 3-seat or 4-seat configurations and back to an open load-carrying bed without use of tools — an industry first. The two rear seats tilt up individually out of the bed structure with the release of a latch and lock into place. Rear passengers can easily access the three-point seat belts, which are located up on the Roll Over Protection Structure (ROPS). When the seats are folded in the down position, the bed maintains its full tilting functionality.
“When we say we’re bringing out product, it’s going to be the same dependable product that Honda always makes,” Savino said. “When you look at $9,999 [retail] for the 2-seater and it does everything the Big Red does but better, it’s spot on.”
The Pioneer will have the added advantage of a larger dealer footprint as well. Where the Big Red was sold out of about 500 Honda dealerships for much of its existence, the Pioneer will be sold by about 900 dealers.
The Pioneer 700-4 ($11,699 retail) is scheduled to arrive at dealerships in mid-August, with the 2-passenger Pioneer 700 in mid-September.
“We’re committed to side-by side and we have a lot of exciting vehicles coming up in future years,” said Wayne Lambert, American Honda 4-wheel product planning. “You’re going to see a lot more vehicles coming from us each year.”