NEWS: Honda CEO wants engineers back in the driver’s seat

Takahiro Hachigo

In what sounds like a cruel April Fool’s joke, Honda announced Wednesday that it is basically undoing its entire product development strategy of the last seven years. Takahiro Hachigo, the new CEO who is barely a year into his tenure, announced Wednesday in Tokyo that Honda is shifting the development process of new platforms away from its sales and marketing departments and back to engineering, the way founder Soichiro Honda intended.

John Mendel, executive vice president of sales at American Honda reveals the 2014 Civic Coupe at SEMA.

The reason behind this change is that Hachigo believes that the development process has become too bloated and cumbersome in the last decade — much like the Honda Civic itself — especially under the leadership of previous CEO Takanori Ito, who resigned last year amidst the Takata airbag recall fiasco.

To simplify how new cars are created, Hachigo-san intends to undo many of the policies Ito instituted, gradually scaling back the influence that the sales and marketing departments have over planning of vehicles. His strategy will also help thin the numbers of people in the design process, allowing tech and engineering teams to do their jobs and be accountable for their own failures.

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

Honda Civic SiRII EF

Hachigo-san hopes to reignite the approaches that made Honda the forward-thinking brand they were during the company’s golden age of the 80s and 90s by putting engineers back in the driver’s seat. The senior executive added that sales people focus more on a car’s affordability than its performance.

“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,” another senior exec said on condition of anonymity.

Beyond the obvious boost in design efficiency, this move also brings back Honda’s sogo hokan concept of mutual independence between their production facilities, marking a return of the technological autonomy which allowed development of great technologies such as CVCC and VTEC.

Not everyone will see increased autonomy, however. Hachigo-san intends to reign in the independence of the regional Honda offices. Differences in engine and tech specs between North America, Latin America, China, Asia, and Europe have caused major issues with the cost effectiveness of international platforms. It was stated that platform and tech development will return largely to Japan, where their most iconic platforms were designed.

Honda R&D Tochigi

This can also help slow the Americanization of some models, where each generation is “bigger and better.” Also, in line with this new decree, the senior engineers that are currently stationed at Honda HQ in Tokyo will be sent back to the Honda R&D Center in Tochigi Prefecture.

Has Hachigo been hanging around with Akio Toyoda? Much like Toyota did to develop the Lexus LC 500, LFA and Scion FR-S, it would appear Honda is moving away from the sales-biased design process that had engineers following the whims of marketers. Essentially, this is Honda getting back on their horse and finding their roots again.

Don’t expect a carbon copy of the DC2 Integra Type R, but perhaps in a few years we will see more Hondas coming to market in line with Soichiro Honda’s original values of exciting, fuel-efficient, and fun-to-drive small vehicles. Most likely, the change will be  in green technologies, which may sound like boring lentil-matic EPA fodder, but remember that much of Honda’s performance history has come first from fuel-saving, emissions-cutting technology. We will have to wait and see what changes come from this, but after a decade spent erasing its performance heritage, it can only be changes for the better.

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27 Responses to NEWS: Honda CEO wants engineers back in the driver’s seat

  1. as a former Honda owner and afficionado, this is great News to hear. I switched over to Mazda as a daily car because i feel that Honda has just nothing interresting to offer for me currently. I’m happy i still own my EK9 which is a blast to drive and even compared to modern cars it has a great design 🙂

  2. Daniel said:

    Good for Honda to finally realize the path taken by Dodge , Mazda, Toyota now.

    Hyundai -Kia to grow strongly in development, design and sporty side view of everyone and winning markets, often being compared to the Japanese 30 years ago.

    A query: HRC also is led by an engineer of that project called NR in the early 80 ‘; The new CEO has a past has a similar past of having worked on a similar project ? (Perhaps the development of NSX Ayrton Senna or Formula 1 at the time)

  3. Nigel said:

    This is great news from Honda ! (I also currently own a Mazda, a 5 spd Mazda 2).

  4. SHC said:

    Very welcome news! Honda should bring Shigeru Uehara out of retirement in an advisory/mentoring role to lend engineering advice and design ideas.

    I would add that if Honda needs feedback they should seek out the advice of actual Honda owners on enthusiast sites, rather than soccer mom’s and lawyers.

  5. Jim Daniels said:

    Thank God that someone has figured it out that has the ability to do something about it. Good, fun to drive cars have to be good cars above all else. A good, fun to drive car can not be designed first as a docking station for a phone and a car second. Get the car part of the equation right, small, light weight, nimble, That is what makes cars fun to drive like Honda’s use to be. I drive a 1972 Datsun 240Z for fun. I use to have a 1989 Honda Civic 3 door, also very fun to drive. Stop making every generation of car larger and heavier. Cheers to Honda, I am excited to see what is going to be built.

    • Jim Daniels said:

      Do not forget to make a standard transmission the standard. People can actually learn to drive. The more connected the driver is to operating the vehicle, the more enjoyment the auto brings. My Grandfather use to say, “I do not know why they ever put a radio in a car, it just distracts you from driving and driving is an important job”. My Grandfather was a traveling salesman who traveled by car. Honda, reconnect the driver with the car.

  6. Kuroneko said:

    I am reading this after having just sat down after 90 minutes on the Shuto-ko in an S800, doing nothing more than enjoying the view and the drive. Hopefully, something similarly inspiring will come from Honda again…

  7. Tim said:

    This is some of the best news!

    When an engineer is designing a car they’d want to drive themselves, the final product shows that engineer’s love. I’m looking forward to seeing what Honda comes up with in the next decade.

  8. Censport said:

    It seems they’ve already started on this road with their keijidosha, such as the N-ONE and S660. Hopefully their motorcycles will benefit from this recharged mindset as well.

    “lentil-matic” Haha, nice one Ryan!

  9. Dimitry said:

    Honda is back in business! (forgive my pun lol)

  10. Jenee said:

    Hopefully they are smart enough to add the clutch pedal back into the designing of the cars.. This clutchless “want to be ” stick shift is nothing but worthless crap..

  11. juppe said:

    Great new, I hope it will have an effect. And always nice to see a picture of a car I used to own, the EF9 (well.. sort of, I had a EE9).

  12. Alan said:

    Hurrah! Some of the best automotive news I’ve read in some time. Hopefully enough of Honda’s soul remains to salvage.

    IF anyone’s reading–please bring back high-revving NA motors, double wishbones, and hatchbacks k thx.

    • Andre said:

      The key word here is double-wishbones. There was a time when all, and I mean all Hondas made by Honda and sold in North America, had double-wishbones, from the Civic & CR-V to Accord & Odyssey. I know Honda is most known for their engines, but what’s the point of power if you can’t control it. Double-wishbone suspension design is what single-handedly drawn me to Hondas in the mid-90s. Double-wishbones were ultimately the single saving grace of Honda’s FF offerings, and it is what made them the best FF cars ever made, because everything else could be found elsewhere at the time, you know the wedge shapes, high-strung motors, and lightweight chassis.

  13. Bscanlan said:

    Great news! I want to see cars like my current Honda, my ’88 Accord Coupe. Truly unique design that leads; let others follow.

  14. YaBoyYeti said:

    Honda back in the 80 and 90s was a quirky car company that knew what it was doing. I love my ef si. Cant wait to have it back on the streets. Glad to hear that Honda is digging back to its roots. Im eager to see what Mugen, Spoon, Modulo, etc are gonna do with the new honda lines. GANBARE HONDA!!!

  15. Amador said:

    How about focus less on performance or looks pay attention how car are being built so I’ll be less recall or problems in the future let the engineer quality check everything before installing will save alot of time n put some effort for what they get pay for

    • Ryan Senensky said:

      “His strategy will also help thin the numbers of people in the design process, allowing tech and engineering teams to do their jobs and be accountable for their own failures.”

      Sounds like thats part of the plan. I agree quality control should be key.

    • YaBoyYeti said:

      We need details, like which plant? did you get affected? which cars? was it component failure? bc with honda i think it was like the airbag issues. unless its like the oddessy inwhich it was the transmission. or some civics with airbags. but that was with the toronto plant.

  16. ssvirk said:

    Happy tears… So many happy tears. Thank you, Hachigo

  17. Tom Westmacott said:

    Great piece, I love the header money shot, that really cements the 117 as beautiful in my eyes 🙂

    I taught Japanese in Hida (northern Gifu-ken) for a year, enjoyed the teaching, and enjoyed just cruising the mountain roads in my S13, window down, induction howl bouncing off the rocks. The mountain roads are amazing, it feels magical the way you turn a corner and discover a new world each time, hidden away from mundane reality.

  18. alan burnett said:

    great news now we can look at taking on the Germans , like to be able to gain parts to keep my 1980 accord in daily use as well

  19. Return if the 90's Honda said:

    Thumbs up; yeah Honda! Yes let the engineers build light fun and elegantly simple! Back to your roots; i am lucky enough to still have a 1993 si hatch 🙂

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