It was announced today that Tadashi Kume, the third president of Honda Motor Co., had passed away. The engineer turned businessman died on September 11, 2022 at age 90. The influential leader guided the company from 1983 to 1990, a time of great change and expansion for Honda. During his tenure, Honda was transformed from a small automaker, operating in the shadow of Nissan and Toyota, into an international rival to those giants.
Kume was born on January 2, 1932 in Hyogo Prefecture. He graduated from Shizuoka University’s mechanical engineering school and joined Honda shortly after. With a specialty in engine design, worked on Honda’s Isle of Man TT motorcycles and the RA302 Formula 1 car.
Kume also led development of the game-changing first-generation Civic and helped create its clean-burning CVCC engine. Famously, Kume butted heads with Soichiro Honda, the company’s founder and at times tyrannical leader. Honda-san was a strong proponent of air-cooled engines but Kume believed, presciently, that the company would have to make the change to water cooling if it was to survive upcoming emissions regulations. The shift, proven by the success of the Civic, saved Honda’s automobile division, which had on the verge of collapse. As the story goes, his debate with Honda-san got so heated that Kume didn’t show up to work for an entire month.
Shortly after Kume took the reins as president, Honda announced plans in 1984 to more than double US production. The move put Honda on the map as a carmaking force to be reckoned with, as the Accord surpassed even Toyota as the best-selling passenger car in the US in 1985.
To the surprise of industry watchers back home Honda, which was once considered in Japan a small firm like Mazda, had become a leader in the carmaking business. It was making bold moves that Toyota followed, such as the creation of a luxury division and the establishment of US plants. Ever humble, Kume said at the time, “The difference in numbers is obvious. We don’t even come close to Toyota. We’re not powerful enough to be seen as a rival, we just make good products that keep our customers happy.”
However, the image of Honda had changed. It was now seen as a company full of innovation and exuberant spirit. Kume moved Honda’s Tokyo headquarters from Harajuku to the upscale Aoyama district, which raised the company’s image as well as employee morale.
Kume’s time as president will be remembered for the births of several ambitious projects. He played a pivotal role in making the original NSX the supercar that it was (and disrupted an international auto show to demonstrate it). He oversaw Honda’s return to — and dominance of — Formula 1. He kicked off plans to build Honda’s Twin Ring Motegi circuit, home to the Honda Collection Hall. The ASIMO robot project was started under Kume, as was the HondaJet.
Kume stepped down in 1990, handing over leadership to Nobuhiko Kawamoto, but continued to serve on the board of advisors for many years. During his career at Honda, he saw the company grow form a motorcycle builder with a car division to a bona fide automotive powerhouse, and was considered one of the great leaders of the firm. Honda plans to honor Kume with a farewell tribute in the weeks to come. He is survived by his wife Taeko. Tadashi Kume was 90 years old.