Exclusive: Honda CEO to shift gears, distance sales teams from car design process - sources

Tue Feb 23, 2016 1:06pm EST
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By Norihiko Shirouzu

TOKYO (Reuters) - Nearly a year into his job, Honda Motor Co (7267.T: Quote) CEO Takahiro Hachigo plans a back-to-the-future shift at the Japanese automaker, driving clearer demarcation lines between those who develop cars and those who sell them, two senior company insiders told Reuters.

The thrust of the changes, to be unveiled by Hachigo in Tokyo on Wednesday, will be to reduce the influence ofsales and marketing teams on car design, reversing moves by previous chief Takanobu Ito, the people said.

"Over the years, our product development process became overly complex and slow, involving a huge number of engineers and sales and marketing people," said one of the two Honda executives. As a result, "we began producing watered down, uninspiring, what you might call designed-by-committee, cars."

Hachigo, 55, has taken soundings internally and set up a small task force of mainly younger fifty something executives, said the insiders, who did not want to be named as they are not authorized to speak to the media.

As a result, he plans a re-balance of power between engineers and marketing on car design, they said, noting 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," the second executive said.

"Tech people should design cars more freely, but take responsibility if the car isn't successful."

Hachigo, who has an engineering background, is likely to limit sales executives' participation at key product planning meetings, including the annual "long-term strategic conference" that usually is held in the spring, they said.   Continued...

Honda Motor Co President and Chief Executive Takahiro Hachigo walks under the company logo as he gives a presentation at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo, Japan, October 28, 2015.    REUTERS/Yuya Shino