The story behind the creation of the Honda Ridgeline seems to be attracting some attention in the auto world. Automotive News spoke about the project with Gary Flint, a 11-year veteran of Honda, and a former employee of GM (where he worked on the C4 Corvette, S10, and Fiero). Essentially, he was denied the usual features of a larger pickup truck - a V8 and body-on-frame construction. Oh, and the budget was non-existent.
With Honda?s excellent V6 lineup, the lack of a V8 powerplant isn?t much of an issue considering the truck?s usage (those who disagree with this statement should probably browse the full-size offerings of your preferred Big 3 brand). Sure, a 4-valve V6 might be a bit peaky, but the 5-speed auto helps greatly. The lack of body-on-frame construction was a much bigger obstacle. Sure, unibody construction has its disadvantages off-road, and is likely much less tolerant of abuse. That?s a problem for those of us that have ?accidentally? overloaded our trucks by 3,000 lbs or so (the tires get round again at 80 PSI), but for many truck buyers, it?s of little consequence. Interestingly enough, the Ridgeline isn?t a true unibody, in the sense that it also has a full-length frame (GM RWD platforms such as the A-, B-, and G-bodies used a very similar design for over two decades).
Unibody construction, though, brought a huge advantage to Honda by allowing them to use existing production resources. Built on the old Odyssey line, the production techniques required minimal additional investment. The total cost of the project is said to be - get this - under $250 million. Seems like a huge chunk of money, but in the world of multi-billion-dollar platform development budgets, that?s chump change.
Honda is on pace to sell about 50,000 units per year. That?s not going to make it a blockbuster in the conventional sense. Assuming they keep it up over five years, the vehicle was put into production for approximately $1,000 per unit. That?d make it a blockbuster in a very unconventional way, especially for Honda who focuses on a few mega-selling models since they generally lack the resources required for a wide assortment of platforms.
As a 3/4-ton truck owner, I?m not impressed by the Ridgeline, but as an automotive engineer, my hat?s off to Flint and his team for a job well done.