Mukumoto wants to focus on fun
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in our 30 & Under issue. Find out more and download your free copy here.
If there’s one word central to the Honda S660 roadster and the vision of the bright, young engineer Ryo Mukumoto, it would be “fun.” Indeed, as I chat with him on a late June morning in rainy Tokyo, I’m struggling to find a more adventurous synonym to convey his passion for cars and the force behind his impact on the automotive industry in Japan.
Turning 27 this year, Mukumoto already has quite a story to his name. Beating many other applicants in a Honda design competition with his idea for the S660 roadster, he became the company’s youngest-ever project leader at just 22 years of age. Most tend to be in their 40s before becoming a project leader; his breakthrough at Honda was unprecedented.
His vision for the S660 is simple—a really small, energetic sports car that embodies the core of what makes driving enjoyable, targeted at both young people and veteran drivers alike. “I designed the S660 for the kei category in Japan so the car could have just enough power while still remaining small, and importantly it means the upkeep and tax are also kept very low,” he explains.
Mukumoto’s first car, the Honda S2000, helped direct focus on the fun. “It was almost as if the car was driving me,” he jokes. “The car was a little too big and the stick a little too high for my skill level. For our generation, features like the speed of the car and the stick height are not particularly important.” Aspects of everyday life also inspired him. “In sports, for example, I like batting(-cage) centers. It’s not about winning or losing, but really just enjoying the whole experience.”
Honda’s company culture played a big role in the car’s development. “Everyone here really loves cars. We work together as one to bring the unthinkable to life,” Mukumoto says. Deeply ingrained in this culture is the concept of waigaya—lively debate among employees, regardless of their position, age or experience.
Isn’t it a little awkward debating with veteran engineers?
“Not at all,” Mukumoto says. “Of course, paying attention to age and position is important, but young people are able to produce wild, crazy ideas that veterans might not, and we can build on the veterans’ experience. This is one of the interesting results of waigaya.”
Despite his success, it seems as though Mukumoto will have a bit of a wait ahead of him before he can take his creation cruising on the winding mountain roads of Japan.
“My delivery date is still undecided,” he says, with a bitter laugh. The waiting list for future S660 drivers stretches through to next year.
Editor’s Note: Michael Gakuran, 29, lives and works in Tokyo. He enjoys driving around the countryside exploring haikyo ruins and writing up the thrilling tales of adventure on his website, Gakuranman (gakuran.com).