What was once a dream of the founder of Honda has become reality. The Japanese automaker is now also a plane maker.
Late Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration officially certified the HondaJet, an entry level business jet. The FAA certification means Honda can now deliver the first business jets to customers who are paying approximately $4.5 million for each plane.
"We have approximately 25 aircraft on the final assembly line," said Michimasa Fujino, CEO of the Honda Aircraft Company. "Our target is to ramp up as quickly as possible."
Fujino discussed the future of HondaJet while looking out on the company's assembly line in Greensboro, North Carolina. The plant employs 1,700 workers who are building a plane aimed at the small, but potentially lucrative light business jet market.
"The light jet market has been clobbered since the the recession and it's finally starting to get some lift," said Wayne Plucker, a consultant with Frost & Sullivan who covers the business jet market. "The HondaJet appeals to people who want something different."
With its engines mounted above the wings instead of being attached to the rear of the fuselage, as it is for most business jets, the HondaJet is designed to have more room in the cabin while having lass drag while in flight. Honda believes that change in design will make a difference to prospective buyers.
But who will spend more than $4 million for a HondaJet that seats up to six passengers and has a range of 1,180 nautical miles?
Fujino says Honda is targeting entrepreneurs and small business owners looking for a more efficient way to travel.
"Many of them are of course high net worth individuals but generally are very young entrepreneurs," Fujino told CNBC. "Several of them are also pilots and fly themselves."
Honda says it has more than 100 orders for HondaJets, with the first one scheduled for delivery late this year or early 2016.
Still, will wealthy plane buyers who are considering jets from Cessna, Embraer, or Learjet think twice before ordering a plane from a company known more for building cars, lawn mower engines and generators?
Plucker thinks Honda's reputation in a variety of industries will be an advantage for the company. "Honda's track record for reliability will attract buyers."
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