Continuing to claim victims, the Takata airbag crisis has resulted in an abrupt change at the helm of Honda, Japan’s number three automaker. Honda, still reeling in the wake of the sixth death related to failing Takata airbags, today dumped its president Takanobu Ito and replaced him with Takahiro Hachigo, a research and development executive. Ito’s ouster as president follows Honda’s embarrassment in the wake of the recall of millions of vehicles in which faulty airbags manufactured by Takata were installed. Also, Honda recently was fined a record $70 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for report problems. Honda reported the sixth airbag-related death earlier this month. It was reported to have occurred in Houston, Texas, where a father of two teenagers died after an airbag inflator exploded on deployment during an accident.
Automotive News in today’s edition noted that Ito’s exit comes as reforms that he had also put in place were just starting to bear some fruit. The reforms were also in response to product recalls that forced the automaker to delay product introductions and forced Honda to retool its research and development standard. One of the key reforms instituted by Ito was the delegation of power from Honda headquarters to six global units that will have responsibility for local production, as well as for research and development. A second reform has slowed research and development and has added quality checks. In addition, it has lessened the workload that the research and development arm has been under.
Ito had been expected by observers to remain at the helm of Honda until the reforms were completed and the announcement of the change caught many unawares. Ito told a quickly called Tokyo news conference today that the automaker is “going forward … I believe it is a good opportunity to revamp our entire operations overseas.” He further said that he expects Honda to “make a huge leap forward” this year. To do this, I believe Honda needs a … new younger leader” and “team.”
Introducing Hachigo at the news conference, Ito, 61, said he had personally selected the research and development executive because he was a key player in setting up the six global hubs and in implementing the automaker’s new strategy. Though Ito has tapped Hachigo as the new president and chief operating officer, the choice has to be ratified by the company’s shareholders at their June meeting. No date has been announced, said the trade paper. Hachigo, 55, Honda’s managing officer and 33-year veteran of the automaker, has a great deal of international experience having been involved with operations in the United States, Europe and China. In addition, according to the detroitbureau.com, he was involved in the development of the highly successful Honda Odyssey minivan, now built in a United States auto plant.
The now-outgoing Honda president, Ito, has had a rather rough six-year tenure at the helm of the automaker. When he took over in 2009 the auto industry was beset by one of its worst downturns in many years. He successfully led Honda through those rough financial waters only to be confronted with exchange rates that tanked, Thai flooding that halted the carmaker’s operations and a 2011 tsunami/earthquake that ravaged Japan. Ito was also president when the Takata airbag crisis broke. It has resulted in the global recall of nearly 30 million vehicles, 17 million of which are Hondas, according to the detroitbureau.com which also reported on today’s replacement. Ito’s term has also been rocked by the imposition of a record fine by the NHTSA for accident data reporting inadequacies. And, the automaker has seen its profitability take a huge hit thanks to the number of recalls that have been reported.