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Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. is building a $30 million all-terrain-vehicle plant in South Carolina that will mold plastic body panels for four popular ATV models.

The 175,000-square-foot plant is scheduled to open in the fall of 1998 and move to full production the following year, said Roger Lambert, Honda spokesman at the firm's Marysville, Ohio, ATV manufacturing center.

Production of all ATVs eventually will shift to the South Carolina plant, Lambert said.

The new plant, located in Timmonsville, S.C., initially will employ 300. Once the plant reaches full capacity, the work force is expected to double in size, Lambert said.

The facility will make four ATV models: the FourTrax 400 Foreman, FourTrax 300, FourTrax 300 4x4 and FourTrax 250 Recon. The ATVs are made in either 2- or 4-wheel-drive versions, depending on the model. Initial plant capacity is projected at 80,000-100,000 units in 1999, Lambert said.

A variety of body panels, including grilles and side covers, will be injection molded using high density polyethylene. The number and tonnage of equipment at the plant will be determined once construction gets under way, according to Lambert. Groundbreaking for the project was May 5.

The Marysville plant, which now makes all of Honda's ATVs in North America, uses two injection presses, with clamping forces of 800 and 2,200 tons. The presses also are used to mold body panels for Honda's Gold Wing motorcycles.

Honda decided to build the new plant to keep pace with growth in the ATV market, Lambert said. In the past six years, the U.S. ATV market has doubled from 150,000 units in 1991 to more than 300,000 units last year, he said.

Honda said it has a 30 percent share of the market.

In addition to injection molding, the South Carolina plant will perform frame manufacturing, welding, painting and assembly. The plant is Honda's 10th in North America, including several automotive and motorcycle plants and a lawn mower plant.