BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Honda Motor Co. said this week it will build the hot-selling Odyssey minivan at its new Alabama assembly plant, where production will begin earlier than planned.

Executives with the Japanese automaker made the announcement at a groundbreaking for the $440 million factory, which is located in Lincoln about 40 miles east of Birmingham. Production is set to begin in 2001, several months sooner than previously announced.Officials earlier this month said sales jumped 20 percent, largely because of an increase in sales of the Odyssey, which is now built in Canada.

The company plans to produce 120,000 vehicles and V6 engines annually at the 1.7 million-square-foot plant just a few miles from the Talladega Superspeedway.

Horoyuki Yoshino, president of Honda of America Manufacturing, said Odyssey will be the first product built at the Alabama plant, indicating others could follow. The company previously said the factory would have the capacity to assemble both minivans and sport-utility vehicles.

Honda officials said last year the Talladega County plant will cost $400 million to construct. That amount is up to $440 million now because the company is adding several manufacturing operations, said Mikio Yoshimi, president of Honda Manufacturing of Alabama.

"This demonstrates how important this new facility is to Honda," he said.

Gov. Don Siegelman welcomed the company to Alabama, where Mercedes-Benz builds its M-Class sport-utility vehicle in Tuscaloosa County about 80 miles to the west.

"When the first Honda Odyssey rolls off the assembly line in Lincoln, Alabama, it will be the best Honda product ever produced," said Siegelman, whose administration recruited the Japanese automaker.