LINCOLN, Neb. — In 1965, an emerging Japanese manufacturer sold six motorcycles here in the heartland.
Some 10 years later, the very same manufacturer broke ground on a $20 million manufacturing plant.
That plant, expanded on many times in the decades to come, rolled out a number of powersports vehicles on its assembly lines Sept. 15, none more significant than a 750 Teryx 4x4 Sport. The bright green side-by-side became the 3 millionth vehicle Kawasaki has built on American soil at the Nebraska plant.
More than 1,500 members of the Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A. employees and affiliated workers gathered at the end of the assembly line to celebrate the moment that was some 35-plus years in the making.
“During these 36 years, we have expanded, responded to market demand and changed our production models,” Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A. President Matsuhiro Asano told the gathered audience.
The audience was jammed shoulder to shoulder in a part of the plant that houses finished UTVs and ATVs, some stacked five and six high.
Much has changed over the past several years for the Lincoln workforce and its sister facility in Maryville, Mo., which builds and assembles engines that are then shipped the approximately 120 miles to Lincoln.
“The current economic conditions resulted in factory reductions,” Asano said in addressing the workforce for Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A., a division under the Kawasaki Heavy Industries umbrella but in a separate division from the more high-profile Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A. “Unfortunately we had a reduction in workforce in 2009 and said goodbye to a lot of co-workers.”
Even with the reduction, the plant and its assembly lines employ more than 1,200 employees and approximately 2,000 between the Lincoln and Maryville facilities.
What those employees are building also has changed over the years.
The diverse vehicle range manufactured at Lincoln once included snowmobiles and motorcycles. In fact, the 500,000th vehicle built there — still stored and displayed at the sprawling, 332-acre complex in Lincoln — was a Ninja sport bike.
Five hundred thousand vehicles later, a jet ski rolled off the assembly line, becoming the 1 millionth vehicle built in Lincoln.
Today, jet skis continued to be manufactured there, being built on one of the five Lincoln assembly lines. Two of the assembly lines build ATVs while the other two build different-sized UTVs. Up to 185 models are produced per day on an assembly line, a number that can vary by model.
The daily goal of a particular assembly line is easily discerned, as overhead visual displays show a constant running count of planned vehicles, actual vehicles built and any stoppage time that was incurred during the day.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Mike Boyle, Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp.’s plant manager and vice president, told the assembled workers at the milestone event. “It’s required a lot of sweat and hard work to reach this milestone. But your dedication has made this day possible.”
Boyle touched on the sheer volume of that sweat and hard work, noting during the ceremony just what has gone into the assembly of
3 million units built, including:
The Lincoln management and its staff also has had to adjust to a much more unpredictable build, a result due partly to reduced consumer demand and Kawasaki’s efforts to adjust to the changing marketplace by increasing the number of dealer orders taken on an annual basis.
“This,” Asano said to the assembled workforce, “is a mere milestone for KMM’s continued growth.”
Twenty minutes later, the more than 1,500 Kawasaki employees and affiliated workers filed out of the warehouse and back toward the assembly lines, commencing work toward No. 4 million.