– Behind-the-scenes: 2019 TALON 1000 R / X Chassis, Testing, Design and Production Interviews with Honda –
All right guys! We’ve got the big 2019 Honda Sport SxS / Side by Side announcements out of the way on the All-New TALON 1000R and 1000X models and now it’s time to start taking a deeper dive into some of the nitty-gritty things around the new TALON 1000 sport models and what makes it special as well as what it took to get Honda to this point.
Today we’re going to have a chat with a Senior Designer at Honda R&D America about TALON 1000 Design aspects and then with the Chief Engineer of Development Planning with Honda R&D America about what it took to bring the TALON 1000 models to Production. Then followed up by New Model Planning at Honda South Carolina for details on the Chassis / Frame to the Manager, Chief Engineer at Honda R&D America about what went on with Testing the new TALON 1000 models so that way Honda can dominate with their usual reliability that everyone expects and anticipates when they buy a new Honda.
- Related / Helpful 2019 TALON 1000 R / X Links:
- 2019 TALON 1000R Review / Specs / Videos / Pictures – Click Here
- 2019 TALON 1000X Review / Specs / Videos / Pictures – Click Here
- 2019 TALON 1000 R + X Accessory Options Breakdown – Click Here
- 2019 TALON 1000 Model Lineup Announcement – Click Here
TALON 1000 Design (1000R & 1000X)
- What word would you use to describe what you were going for with the Talon’s look?
- “Capable.” When you looked at this vehicle, we wanted you to know that it’s able to take any terrain. Mud, trail, open—the actual capabilities of it were really what we wanted to emphasize. You look at this vehicle, and you know it can go anywhere.
- Where did you draw your inspiration for the Talon?
- Honda has so much experience and so much success on our off-road dirt bikes, the CRF line, and that’s a highly capable, performance-based vehicle. We wondered what it would it look like if you took something as nimble and capable as the CRF and applied the visual elements to something like a four-wheel Sport side-by-side product.
- In what ways did the CRF line inform the design?
- The Talon’s high bodyline, from a visual standpoint on the exterior, is to create a continuous, cohesive body side from front to rear. Without that, a vehicle can appear kind of primitive and broken, so we wanted a front-to-rear communication in this vehicle—one gesture. That high-bodyline exterior was inspired by the CRF, that top line of the motorcycle and that visual dynamic that it conveys. The interior also becomes more secure feeling for the driver and passenger, so that high bodyline is something that’s functional as well as visually impactful.
- How did the design evolve?
- Initially, we research the product, then it goes to sketching, and that sketching is reviewed by multiple disciplines to understand feasibility, cost, outlooks, those types of things. Once a certain overall image is selected—that’s an internal, global effort to reach that consensus as to a fixed 2D image of what we’re going to achieve—then we move to 3D, and that 3D process includes clay, previsualization in CAD, and from there we move forward. The final output is CAD, and we work from there.
- Is designing a Sport side-by-side particularly exciting?
- For sure there’s excitement from the design side in dealing with the sport/performance category, but at the same time we’re trying to field a family image based on representing Honda’s durability, quality and reliability. We push to achieve something that’s a coherent part of the product family. I think it’s pretty clear that Honda vehicles are class leading when it comes to reliability and dependability, and I constantly have to support that. We go through immense amounts of testing and back-and-forth to ensure the quality of the product.
- How did the design objectives adjust as the project progressed?
- The objective never changed, but of course there’s an incredible amount of maturing that takes place when you’re dealing with a ground-up build like this. I’m constantly addressing that and basically adapting that initial design to how the project continually grows.
- Were there any notable design departures that made it into the final version?
- One thing that we really wanted to address was efficient cooling, and we put in motorcycle-inspired shrouds, as well as side vents. Those are unique to our side-by-side vehicles, to ensure proper cooling.
- In what ways did you try to facilitate the visceral experience through the design?
- We definitely want to capture that emotion, and we spent quite a bit of time on the interior to facilitate a great experience for the driver and passenger. We wanted to make sure to go after those human factors that will help support the customers’ emotional experience—the enclosed, safe feeling, and more of an advanced look.
- Did you get to drive the prototypes?
- Even at the beginning of the project, before pen was put to paper, we’re experiencing these vehicles. Once we start working with actual test vehicles, I’m supporting those teams at all times, so I’m in the vehicle. I get to feel it, understand what we’re trying to achieve and if we’re successful or not from a design point of view.
- Were there any “aha” moments?
- Other than the shrouds and the body side venting, another kind of aha moment was when we were completing the roof. We wanted to incorporate some downforce on the roof, because it’s surprising how air becomes an element of performance. However, we knew that the vehicle was going to get trailered—possibly while facing backward—so we had to create a roof that would be fine for that. We were innovative in the sense that we were able to achieve the spoiler but with a rearward flow-through, in case it was ever to be trailered facing backward.
- What was considered in the color-selection process?
- I think we all felt that there was a need for something a little bit more impactful than a multipurpose side-by-side. Again we’re coming to market with our first Sport side-by-side, so we wanted to make a statement.
- How do you feel about the finished product?
- I’m 100% confident that we went after this project and this platform in an aggressive manner, and I think we’re all really proud of the end result.
TALON 1000 Production (1000R & 1000X)
- What was the starting point for the development of the Talon?
- This project was centered around the development of the 1,000cc engine with a DCT transmission that’s in the Pioneer 1000. The plan was that this project would follow after the development of the Pioneer 1000, in order to enter the Sport side-by-side segment. We knew we’d be producing it at our Honda of South Carolina manufacturing facility, which would be going through an expansion for this vehicle, because we were developing a one-piece frame that would require some changes to the production line.
- What were the performance goals for the engine when applying it to the Sport model?
- One thing we focused on when we started this was acceleration performance, and not just what it feels like when you accelerate, but also the actual dynamic time itself, from zero to 200 meters. We set that as a key performance target that we always balanced throughout the development.
- How did you do that?
- By ensuring that we were optimizing the design, saving weight where we could, to be sure we were going to achieve that performance for acceleration, but also making sure we met the strength requirements of the drivetrain. You want performance, but you don’t want your driveshaft to break when you’re 20 miles from camp.
- What is the process of going from concept to a production?
- We had already done a lot of research with respect to the multipurpose customer, who we knew very well, but we knew we couldn’t just rest on that. We had to go out and investigate and understand how the customers were using Sport side-by-sides, but also learn where there were voids in what they were being offered. We boiled that down into the concept of creating these two distinct Sport vehicles for those unique usages. Once we developed that core concept, we had our styling team in L.A. create a styling concept based on that, for performance and packaging. From there, we started to develop specific targets across what we call the function groups, to break down subsequent targets of performance and spec achievement in order to meet that higher overall concept. Based on those targets, the design engineers go to work and figure out where to put the seats, the engine, the center of gravity, the wheelbase—all those kinds of packaging elements. We ultimately arrive at the design that we prototype for the first time, and then we get to test our theory with an actual real-world vehicle. That iteration happens a couple times, until we refine it sufficiently to the point that we can hand those specifications and drawings off to the factory, and that’s where Honda of South Carolina takes it over for production.
- What area was the most challenging?
- Frame rigidity was a challenge in the beginning, and we had to go back to the drawing board and make some radical changes right out of the gate to achieve our targets. We build prototypes in batches because we have eight to 12 function groups that have to do their respective confirmations to make sure it meets Honda’s requirements.
- How do you measure frame rigidity?
- That was one of the unique aspects of this process. Ultimately we ended up leveraging our auto synergy by being next door to Honda Auto. We were able to utilize their chassis fixtures to determine the rigidity of the frame by isolating the suspension system from it. After that we could focus on tuning the suspension. By going through that testing, we identified an improvement in our development process. We didn’t want to put this out quick and let the customer in the market figure it out. We wanted to make sure it met our standards—including some standards that we didn’t have before this project, that we had to develop.
TALON 1000 Chassis (1000R & 1000X)
- How does the production process start?
- The R&D team develops the dimensions and delivers the drawings and specifications. From those, we look at supply sourcing for certain parts, and for parts we produce, we naturally look for equipment that can accommodate the dimensions and the requirements. From that point, we go to painting, to assembling, and then final production of the unit rolling off the line.
- What is the largest component that HSC produces?
- The one-piece frame is a key component. We’re pipe-bending, cutting—all of that is done here. The engine itself if brought from Japan. We also bring in the DCT transmission, but we build the front and rear differentials here.
- What is challenging about producing the frame?
- Previously with units of this size, we’ve built the frame in two components. With the one-piece frame concept of the Talon, we’ve had to redesign our welding department and the way they manufacture the frame. Also, we put in an all-new paint facility that was basically designed around the dimensions of that one-piece frame.
- What is special about the new paint facility?
- We took a lot of measures to guarantee the quality and integrity of the coating, the paint, and the rust prevention of the frame. Our paint facilities use a several-step process that starts with an e-coat base dip that’s baked on, and then it goes into our actual spay areas to spray the powdercoat onto the e-coated surface. Then it goes again into a oven, and that’s baked on. The process is state-of-the-art, along the levels of what’s currently trending in the automotive industry. Honda has really gone to great lengths to guarantee the quality of the frame’s paint and ensure the rust-prevention needs are met.
- Do you work with the R&D team during development?
- HSC does attend the development activity to give us an opportunity to understand what it’s going to require to introduce that unit into the line, in terms of manufacturing and assembly.
- How long is each production run?
- Our schedule has restraints, but it’s not restricted to where we can only do one model for a long period of time and then we change over to something else. There are a lot of factors that go into our production schedule, but we have the ability to mix models within a reasonable lot size. For an extreme example, maybe in the case of one day for side-by-side, we could produce three different types, like a Pioneer 1000, a Pioneer 700 and a Pioneer 500. We have that ability to mix the types and models produced based off of customer needs. We have an ATV line and we have a side-by-side line, and we currently have a two-shift operation. We do try to minimize changeovers and generate a schedule that helps to maintain a harmonious flow of work.
- Do you use any Japanese customs, like group stretching before work?
- Morning stretches are a common practice that we have instilled here at HSC, so at the start of our different shifts, we have a team stretch and exercise and maybe a daily briefing of what each individual is going to do that day. That’s a normal practice as far as what I’ve seen from Honda, from both Japan and the U.S.
- Does that help bond the team?
- Yes, but as far as building cohesiveness for the team, I would say that working side by side with individuals, you naturally develop a bond and a sense of ownership in your job. Another classic example of building that sense of teamwork is the principle that we use of not passing bad product to our customer, and not accepting bad product from our suppliers. What that means for a line associates is that before they begin their process, they confirm that the process before them has been completed and that it has been done to standard. If it’s not, then he or she refers back to the previous assembler or process associate and says, “Hey this isn’t right.” So basically, we’re guaranteeing whatever we pass to the next person is correct and is done the way that it’s designed to be done.
TALON 1000 Testing (1000R & 1000X)
Manager, Chief Engineer, Honda R&D America | A former professional motocross and off-road motorcycle racer, Drey Dircks has worked with Honda R&D America for 25 years. Based in Honda’s Marysville, Ohio, facility, he leads projects to assure powersports products meet North American market requirements.
- How did Honda R&D America work on the Talon?
- We designed them from the ground up at this office. We set concept targets, and then from the overall concept it was broken down into function-group targets. You have handling, stability, noise/vibration, braking, power performance—a lot of different groups that all set individual function targets to achieve a concept target. There’s a whole process that we go through, and my role as one of the evaluators is to understand if that’s enough to meet our concept targets through the entire development. Setting the targets happens before the project is kicked off, and then the kickoff gives everybody focus and direction.
- What was the biggest challenge during the development process?
- All the function groups are interrelated, so one affects the other. We have really aggressive handling stability targets because that was one of the highest priorities of the vehicle for this concept; we wanted good, predictable, confidence-inspiring handling. At the same time, that could impact top performance, noise/vibration, braking, things like that. Achieving our handling stability targets was very challenging. We went from 10 inches of travel on the Pioneer 1000 to 18 and over 20 inches of travel on the Talon models. We had ambitious targets, and we were able to achieve them. I believe that’s down to technical knowhow and attention to detail.
- What was the biggest surprise in testing the prototypes?
- I mentioned the challenge of achieving our handing stability targets, but it was surprising how well it worked when we got a handle on that. We made great strides, and when people drive this vehicle initially, they notice the predictable, confidence-inspiring handling.
- What can you say about the testing process?
- I can say that Honda’s standards are the highest in the industry. Our durability standards are the most grueling and aggressive, and the results demonstrate that in comparison tests. We create worst-case conditions, and we do that for a very long time to ensure that quality is achieved.
- Are the testing days ever challenging for the test drivers?
- You know, there are quite a few of those actually! [Laughs] We want to take the vehicle to the limit, so some of our test modes are to go to the hottest place and do X amount of time in sand dunes, wide-open throttle, things like that, to really take the vehicle to the limits so there are no quality issues for the customers.
- Do you do any testing that is too dangerous to even have a person in the vehicle?
- Yes we do, and then for high-potential-risk items, we have high-level drivers to what we call limit testing.
- What happens to the prototypes?
- All prototypes are crushed when we’re finished. They’re hand-modified, things like that, so because we can’t guarantee safety or quality of prototypes, they’re all destroyed. Twenty years ago, I used to feel bad to watch them go, but now it doesn’t faze me. It can be hard for the engineers who put their lives and souls into the prototype, but that sad feeling all goes away when you see a new, mass-production unit on the showroom floor. I think that the Honda philosophy of the Joy of Creating and the Joy of Selling is why everybody in this office is doing what we do. That high passion is probably the biggest strength for Honda in North America, for Powersports. The engineers are enthusiasts and want to build a good product for the customer. There’s a lot of hard work and long hours these engineers have into it, and I think they’re really excited to see it out in the market and show off everything they’ve been working on.
- How does this project compare to others you’ve done at Honda?
- The Talon was a new segment, pushing the boundaries of suspension and geometry to a very high level, so I would say it’s the most challenging project we’ve done in this office.
MADE IN THE USA
Though founded and headquartered in Japan, Honda is a global company that has been leading the way in incorporating American facilities and employees into all aspects of vehicle design and production, through a family of United States-based operations. Honda was the first Japanese company to manufacture motorcycles in the U.S. (in 1979, with the CR250M Elsinore, in Marysville, Ohio), and the first Japanese auto company to manufacture cars in the U.S. (in 1982, with the Accord, also in Marysville).
The first Honda vehicle sold in America (1959) and the first Honda vehicle manufactured in America (1979) were both powersports products, and Honda has been expanding its powersports development, design and production in this country ever since. The Talon project is the work of the Marysville-based R&D group, the Torrance, California-based design group, and a manufacturing group stationed in Timmonsville, South Carolina.
The side-by-side market has a particular connection to the United States, as it represents the category’s strongest market. The Sport segment is growing rapidly, and when Honda made the decision to offer its own entry, it was natural that the groups tasked with that project would be the same U.S.-based teams that develop and manufacture most of the company’s side-by-sides and ATVs.
Before Honda enters a new vehicle in the market, the R&D division researches the market and then develops a vehicle, from concept goal to finished product. “The engine and transmission is still ultimately the responsibility of HGA [Honda Giken Asaka, or Honda Japan],” says Jeremy McGuire, the Chief Engineer of Development Planning in Marysville, who has worked for Honda since 1999. “They supply the engine and we develop everything else around it. The Ohio side is 100% responsible for the final Complete Build Unit. We’re responsible for the entire frame, body, plastics, electrical and suspension, with U.S. associates led by the project leaders within the respective function groups. Of course we have Japanese technical experts who are there also, but the development itself is largely led by U.S. staff. And then I would say close to 100% of our test drivers are local staff as well. We also have some guys who are former Baja 500 and 1000 motorcycle racers who are actually expert evaluators or handling-and-stability project leaders, so that also gives us some added value.”
Drey Dircks is the Manager/Engineer and primary test driver, as well as one of the ex-Baja racers that McGuire referred to. Although he works out of the same Ohio office as McGuire, Dircks’s testing duties take him to various locations. “In the winter we go south and do some things in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and we do a lot of testing in California,” he says, “but when the weather’s good, we do probably 90% of our testing here locally. We have our own test course and have a really good facility to do our testing that represents actual customer usage.”
To lead the look of the Talon, Honda turned to its U.S. design team, but Senior Designer Erik Dunshee, who has 10 years with Honda. Although he’s based in the Torrance, California, studio, he points out that the process is international. “When we go after a project, we’re always working in consensus with Honda Powersports in Japan,” he says. “The majority of the legwork took place in the U.S., but it’s always a global effort.”
For production, Honda turns to the 650,000 square-foot facility at Honda South of Carolina (HSC). The engines and transmissions arrive from Japan, but the Timmonsville factory handles chassis production and vehicle assembly. The plant celebrated its 20th anniversary in July, shortly after reaching the milestone of three million ATVs produced in America, and Matt Joseph was hired when it opened in 1998. “It was an opportunity of a new company, a new culture, coming into the area,” recalls Matt, who describes himself as a “homegrown” South Carolinian. “It was a new opportunity for those, like myself, who took that journey. Honda is a Japanese company, so it offers a different culture, a different mindset.”
Joseph was open to learning, developing, improving and being exposed to new ideas, which helped when he traveled to Japan to learn alongside his manufacturing counterparts there. “A lot of times you don’t realize the impacts of what you’re doing on a daily basis, but you have other folks around you who see you doing things differently, hear you speak in a different manner, or watch you plan in a different manner,” he explains. “My job is mainly about planning, so what it has done for me is that rather than waiting until the last minute to plan a big activity, typically I’m planning several months, or even years in advance.”
It’s a decidedly Japanese tendency for someone who describes himself as a “homegrown” South Carolinian, but it’s representative of a key advantage for Honda; by leveraging its international knowhow and expertise, while relying on its capable U.S. footprint for development and production, the company is able to offer better four-wheel powersports products.