Honda fightback on the cards: CEO expected to hand development reigns back to the engineers

Honda fightback on the cards: CEO expected to hand development reigns back to the engineers

Is the edgy, dynamic and aggressive Honda of old poised to return?

After almost a year in the hot seat, new Honda Motor Co CEO Takahiro Hachigo will soon flag some sweeping changes designed to streamline the company’s internal development processes, according to a Reuters report.

The report cites two senior company insiders, who both say steps are being taken to turn around the company’s wares, which by most accounts, until some recent promising signs, have lacked the innovation of previous decades. Honda was once considered the ‘Japanese BMW’, remember.

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The key element, according to the report, is to reduce the role of sales and marketing people who might perhaps, at times, prioritise price over innovation in developing new products. In other words, it’s about leaving the development to designers and engineers, before handing the result over to sales to sell and marketers to advertise.

Hachigo is an engineer, so to direct such a move would be fitting. He previously ran Honda research and development both at home and in Europe.

Remember also that Hachigo, in his first press conference as boss last year, said: “Rather than focusing on numbers, it is important to come up with products that carry dreams and satisfy our customers. We will focus on the development of innovative products”.

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One of the Honda insiders this week told Reuters:

“Over the years, our product development process became overly complex and slow, involving a huge number of engineers and sales and marketing people… we began producing watered-down, uninspiring, what you might call designed-by-committee, cars.”

The other off-the-record Honda executive told Reuters:

“Sales people involved in product planning are more focused on customers’ immediate needs. We need to stay focused on that, but it’s not much help in figuring out what kind of car we should be putting out 5-10 years down the road.”

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“Tech people should design cars more freely, but take responsibility if the car isn’t successful.”

Honda has been showing some signs of ‘recovery’ of late. The new Civic Type-R is getting plaudits, as is the S660. The new NSX ditto, while even more humble fare such as the new Civic sedan, due in Australia in a few months, is being hailed as a step forward over the dreary predecessor. It’s also making big moves with its hydrogen fuel cell vehicles alongside Toyota.

It’s understood Hachigo will announce the specifics of the structural changes in Tokyo, potentially later today.

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