NEW YORK (Kyodo) Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday it will build a new assembly plant in Indiana, its sixth in North America.

The $550 million plant, with an annual capacity of 200,000 vehicles, will be built near the town of Greensburg. Production is expected to begin in the fall of 2008 and the plant will employ 2,000 workers, the company said in a press release.

Honda plans to build “fuel-efficient 4-cylinder vehicles” at the plant to take advantage of the growing popularity of cars with smaller engines.

When the new plant is complete, Honda’s production capacity in North America will total 1.6 million vehicles, which is nearly equal to the 1.68 million cars it sold in North America last year.

“Honda’s success in America has been based on our strong commitment to our customers,” American Honda Motor Co. President Koichi Kondo said in a press release.

Kondo said Indiana’s Midwest location offers ideal access to the automaker’s network of parts suppliers and customers across the U.S., according to the release.

Japan’s biggest automaker, Toyota Motor Corp., is also considering building a new assembly plant in North America, which would be its eighth.

At a press conference last month, Honda Motor President Takeo Fukui said the automaker planned to invest $400 million in a new plant in the United States.

According to the press release, Honda also plans to build a new plant that will make 4-cylinder engines in Canada. The $140 million plant will have a staff of 340. And it will invest $125 million to expand engine, transmission and powertrain component production in Ohio and Georgia.

Honda’s longer-term goals in North America include introducing a cheaper hybrid car and 4-cylinder diesels that meet stricter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards by 2009, and raising the average fuel economy of its cars by 5 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2010, the statement said.

MMC cochief out

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Richard Gilligan, Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc.’s copresident and co-CEO, said Wednesday he will retire Friday.

Gilligan took the top spot at MMC’s North American unit in January 2005, as the automaker struggled with sluggish sales in the U.S. following a series of vehicle recall scandals.

MMC’s sales in the United States remain slow despite efforts to streamline production.

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