Latest inverview with Mr. Ito, Honda's CEO
Date: July 05, 2013 10:58
オートックワン (Autoc One )
Following is a translation of the last interview Honda gave to a Japanese magazine, right after the rather successful launch of the Accord Hybrid in Japan. The original can be found in the link below for anyone interested:
Thanks in advance to CVCC1974 for sharing the original link.
As usual, this is "translated in spirit, not word by word, and within the limits of my understanding, likely biased towards the way I see things". Keep in mind Japanese aren't often straight when they talk, and a lot is left to read between the lines, which obviously depends on who's reading... Finally, it is no secret to anyone here that I truly love this guy.
So once you understood all that, here it is, good read !!!
Q1 : It was about 2 years ago when Honda seemed to be facing very difficult times and strong opposition, with many literally asking: "what the hell are you doing Honda"? Now we got the opportunity to ask a lot of things to Mr. Ito on the Honda ahead of us.
R1: Indeed, those were tough times for our company. Actually, I think we were completely stuck. For example, we were barely working on any next-generation motor-technology. After that, we did receive plenty of hard to swallow criticism.
Q2: Yet recently, opposition seems to be loosing. Is it because little by little the products and technologies in preparation have started to reach the market?
R2: Actually, the new developments on kei-cars (660cc JP minicars) had been going on by about 1 year before I became CEO. So that change had already started before. For the new hybrid technologies however, the new start came after I became CEO.
Q3: Ah, that is the reason why the new kei-cars (N-BOX) came to the market one and a half years ago. And now the new Accord hybrid, which introduces plenty of new tech. So as people understand that the opposition has started to loose.
R3: Speaking by the results, I myself saved Honda ! (laughing). Obviously it wasn't me ! What truly saved Honda was the Lehmann shock! If not because of it I believe it would have been impossible to make the big policy changes Honda required. Up to the Lehmann shock all of Honda was going around the developed countries with a particular focus on the American market. Not only that, because of the favorable exchange rate Japan was made the base of it all. Then everything changed at once.
Q4: Now that you say it, it is true that in the last year Honda has made considerable investments in India, Indonesia, as well as Thailand. In the past, in those regions Honda was mainly selling cars in the class of the Accord or Civic, which were originally developed for the American customer, large and expensive. Yet now Honda is increasingly adding Fit or sub-Fit class offerings. Is that what you mean?
R4: When I became CEO, there were a V8 RWD platform, and a V10 NSX on its last development phase. All of them wonderful cars. So when we decided to cancel all those programs one by one, the reaction of the R&D department was very violent, they were really angry, enough to say to me: "Don't dare show up here in the labs!". Yet people's needs in different countries and regions are different. So what we should pursue is "developing cars that will be loved by the different people in different places". That's what the Lehmann shock taught us.
Q5: I must admit I'm really astonished by the number of new technologies that Honda has been working on since you became CEO. Not one but three different hybrid systems! DCT's, small displacement turbos, EVs, a new diesel for emerging nations, ... Yet with Honda's development department being roughly half the size of Toyota's (working people), how is it possible they release so many new technologies, not only for cars but also motorbikes, even planes !
R5: I think it's because our engineers have plenty of things they truly desire doing. Half joking, but for example, I think it was pretty tough for the Fit team aiming to release several different cars simultaneously in the different parts of the world. When at last year journalists meeting I went to try the prototype in the morning, I wasn't really satisfied, so I told the engineer in charge: "Just take it back to where you brought it!". And then he got so mad at me. So after coming back from the driving course he stood up and told me: "First of all I want you to say to everyone here: I truly appreciate your efforts!". It was really that tough...
Q6: The way I see it the developments Honda made in these 2 years are what one could expect to accomplish in 10 ! Looking from the outside, it really feels like a major leap forward. So from the perspective of the development teams they must really look at the CEO as some kind of demon...
R6 : Right now the Accord is a pretty well rounded vehicle. However, when I first tried the prototype it didn't felt right, so I said: "if it keeps going like this there is no way I'm going go out there to present this thing". Afterwards, there were major developments in the direct injection engine, as well as the fabrication process. I truly persuaded the researchers that "the customer is the most important thing". That to be in consonance with the society and times they live in is more important than their own personal tastes.
Q7: moving to a completely different topic. When you became CEO of Honda, you said that you had great respect for the founder, Mr. Honda Soichiro. He said that people's happiness came from the mobility empowered by engines.
R7: He was truly a man with no selfishness at all. Sure he wanted to enjoy life, but also make others enjoy just as much. And he wanted to bring that joy to the masses. From that perspective, when I went to India after becoming CEO I really thought their bike business was the perfect example of what Mr. Honda stood for. In India, compared with the average annual income bikes are pretty expensive, yet people buy them, use them for all kinds of jobs, to support their families, and so on.
Q8: I do believe having a wonderful founder makes a company strong. For that when you think you've lost your way you can always go back to the ideas he stood for, while it also helps consolidating the opinions within the company.
R8: I truly learned an awful lot in India. In India we were selling cars, but they were all of the gorgeous type that had been developed for America. That I believe was the main factor behind Honda's stagnation, not only in India but across the world. Local people's needs are all different. Myself being a bike rider I understood it well: the fact is that for most Indian people they would just love not to face rain and wind. That's where we should have started in India. If Mr. Honda was there, he would have said: "get up and start making the kind of car that would make Indian people happy!", don't you think ? That is Honda's origin, Honda's starting point. I sent to India very talented people, so I think that situation is going to change very rapidly.
Q9: However, in cars there is also "being the best", and "competition". That's why Mr. Honda went to race abroad very early. So making luxurious high performance cars is also one of the dreams of any car maker, don't you think?
R9: Absolutely. The fascination for cars is very important. Even in India, driving a car of a company that makes other wonderful cars makes people proud about their ownership. It is for that reason for example that we are aiming at developing the fastest FF car around the Nurburgring.
Q10: And also competing in F1 !! Please tell us a little bit more about your come-back.
R10: Right after I became CEO people started asking about F1, but what could I say then, right after we just left the competition !? But I obviously always wanted to come back. Then came the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, Thailand floods, could never find the proper timing. Yet a bit afterwards regulations changed, and all of a sudden we found the right environment for us to come back.
[warning, the following Q&R were pretty challenging, not sure at all I got it right...]
Q11: How do you think was the reaction of the rest of the F1 world?
R11: When we retired after our third campaign, the man in charge (Mr. Oshima) made the transition very well. Honda, not just in F1, has always been very correct when retiring. I believe that's the reason why people always welcome us back afterwards. So this time, our partner (McLaren) made the decision very quickly. I think everyone is welcoming us back warmly.
Q12: So what's this time's project?
R12 : To keep going for long, that's what we really want to stress. In F1, we are only really good at making engines, while the chassis and management require completely different abilities. That's what we learned from our third campaign. To put it straight, towards the end of our last campaign we could say we were really lost, had almost no clue of what to do next. For that reason this time around we decided to make just the engine. And this time we won't easily withdraw !
Q13: Two and a half years since you became CEO, it seems Honda's development team has been sprinting with all its strength, and talking to you it seems it's going to be like this for a while.
R13: Well, ahead of us the most important thing is localization. We've reached a scale where it's not possible to keep doing everything in Japan. The fact that we need to enlarge the battle front is something I have already told to Mr. NouNaka? (vice-president, head of R&D), but maybe we need to spend more time to get the employees to understand it. Honestly, I think they are doing good. We entrusted it to Mr. Kunizawa? so we are thinking about it. If I was in charge of the R&D department I may have started a revolution against the CEO ! (laughing).
Q14: Last question of the inverview, what do you do during your holidays? (personal comment: that must be a joke... I don't know many Japanese taking holidays in car companies, sure Ito doesn't have many...)
R14: I just take it easy and relax. I enjoy onsens (Japanese hotsprings) the most. Around Utsunomiya there are plenty of good choices, so I often go riding my bike. I really enjoy the wind in my face when riding a motorbike. So please look forward to our new upcoming kei-sportscar, because it's going to be an open car !!
Last edited by JeffX on
July 05, 2013 11:23