Sun, Sep 10, 2017 - Page 7 News List

How Honda lost its mojo and the mission to get it back

A failed 2012 Civic redesign and complaints by company talent of ‘indentured servitude’ have shaken Honda’s competitiveness, but a small group is working behind the scenes to bring it back

By Norihiko Shirouzu  /  Reuters, TOKYO

Some changes are underway at Honda to address these disruptive forces. These include moving tech management jobs out of Tokyo to give the technology division more autonomy.

Honda has struck deals with third parties to accelerate progress on its “smart” connected electric car. These include an agreement with Hitachi to develop and produce motors for plug-in electric cars and a deal with General Motors to produce hydrogen fuel cell power systems in the US.

Honda is also in talks with Alphabet’s Google to supply vehicles to jointly test self-driving technology.

A key force for change inside the company is the small group of engineers, managers and planners who are working quietly behind the scenes to revamp the company, Hachigo and Matsumoto said.

The group’s existence is little known inside the company. The team works out of Kyobashi, a neighborhood near Tokyo Station. Honda bosses declined to share the identities of its members.

They did share some of the ideas it is advocating. These include streamlining Honda’s product development process, which became bloated as the company got bigger, and developing underlying technologies for a range of vehicles to develop cars more efficiently and respond more quickly to changes in customer tastes.

The group also wants to increase the use of virtual engineering tools, such as computer-aided design, to speed up development, and it is working on an improved design for plug-in battery cars.

Matsumoto is hoping the group will be transformative, but he does not expect change to be instant.

“Almost always change — any change — starts on the fringes,” he said. “This group is evidence that we still somewhere inside this company have the mojo we lost. There is that DNA left in us.”

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