TOKYO — Honda Motor Co. is famed for its fierce independence.
But CEO Takahiro Hachigo, who took office in June, is more willing to join hands with rivals and is charting the new course for good reason.
Costs for new environmental and safety technologies are skyrocketing. And Hachigo has sworn off chasing the high sales volumes that could help offset such r&d spending.
The shift in attitudes begins with an unlikely ally in General Motors, which is partnering with Honda on fuel cell technology for 2020. But Honda is also open to collaborating with Google, Apple or even other Japanese automakers, if it’s a win-win.
“Considering that the range of technologies required in cars is expanding, I think we have to consider such possibilities,” Hachigo told Automotive News. “If we see that there is an advantage in working with another company, then we would consider building such a relationship.”
Hachigo became CEO as Honda was recovering from a series of quality problems that forced the company to rejigger global r&d and re-evaluate its ambitious sales targets.
In fiscal 2012, with Honda en route to global sales of 4 million vehicles, then-CEO Takanobu Ito set a global sales goal of 6 million vehicles in the fiscal year that ends March 31, 2017 — a major jump from the 4 million Honda sold in the year that Ito set the goal. But by the fiscal year ended in March, worldwide sales had reached just 4.4 million.
By the time Hachigo took over, Ito and he had backtracked on the goal.
While saying Honda is still big enough to go it alone, Hachigo acknowledged that small size is a handicap in today’s landscape.
“In the past, there was talk that unless you achieve 4 million units globally, you were not going to be able to survive,” he said. “And now that the market is growing, you’d tend to think that number would be higher now. But there are still manufacturers surviving with volume around 4 million.”
The key is killer product, and that’s where it helps to have friends. Honda is not a loner. It has supplied GM with V-6 engines and formed an alliance with Britain’s Rover.
But aside from Toyota Motor Corp., Honda is the only big Japanese carmaker to never surrender an equity stake to a rival automaker. Hachigo said any talk of a capital tie-up is a nonstarter. Honda prides itself on engineering everything from lawn mowers and snowblowers to robots, machine tools and jet aircraft in-house.