Ito’s Departure a Long Time Coming

Christie Schweinsberg Blogger, Senior Editor

February 23, 2015

4 Min Read
Ito’s Departure a Long Time Coming

The seemingly sudden departure of Honda President Takanobu Ito could be looked at as a result of last year’s Takata airbag crisis or the embarrassing, numerous recalls associated with the new Fit subcompact.

But troubles have been brewing at the automaker for quite awhile.

In the past six years Ito has helmed the Japanese automaker, the phrase “Honda has lost its mojo," a reference not to the automaker's sales, which have been quite good, but product that is lacking in certain attributes, has been uttered countless times by members of the automotive community.

And for good reason.

Yes, Ito shepherded the automaker successfully through the recession, as Honda posted profits when most other automakers saw losses. And he advocated for the now-imminent return of the fanboy-favorite Acura NSX supercar.

But he also guided the company during an era of some truly underwhelming products.

No misfire stands out more than the ’12 Civic.

The ninth generation of Honda’s legendary C-car was so shockingly bad I had to repeatedly ask if the Civics given to media to drive at the April 2011 Washington preview were pre-production models.

The car that had turned Honda’s fortunes in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, by appealing to both those who love cars and those who don’t love taking them in for service, had been reduced to a plastic-y econobox.

Honda failed to spring for soft-touch dashboards even in the highest trim levels of the ’12 Civic, the Hybrid and Si grades, although mid-level Ford Focuses and Chevy Cruzes had better materials.

No wood or metallic trim decorated the revamped Civic’s instrument panel, which I called in my review of the car “a sea of nothingness, with a huge, flat shelf and a vast expanse unfettered by any interesting detail.”

Bad material selection continued with the headliner and seats, with fuzzy, cheap-looking fabrics on both.

Fit and finish also was dreadful, with misaligned panel joints and mismatched shades of gray.

The outcry was so loud over the weak effort Honda rushed a mid-cycle refresh for the car only a year-and-a-half later.

Honda blamed the Civic stumble on the recessionary mood, presuming people would want “value” and not a decent interior, despite nearly every compact in the Civic’s competitive set having one.

Then there’s Acura.

What more can be said? After 29 years, the brand still isn’t traveling in the same Tier-1 luxury sphere as BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Lexus.

To many people, Acuras still are simply gussied up Hondas. They use the same platforms as Honda models, and many have the same engines and transmissions as Hondas. And they’re still largely U.S.-only vehicles. Forays by Acura into China and Russia have been volume-slim endeavors.

After Acura’s first fantastic decade, when the Integra and Legend blended German-grade performance with Japanese-style reliability, it’s been mostly a struggle for credibility.

The RDX and MDX CUVs have helped stem the volume bleeding from Acura’s car lineup, which today lacks the cachet of the Germans’ roster.

Hybrids also were a stumbling block during Ito’s reign. Honda never has had any mojo here, and he didn’t change that.

The second-generation ’10 Insight was going to be “the one” that finally brought Honda volume and standing in the green-car sector.


With a design embarrassingly nicked from the Prius, the car still was smaller and less fuel-efficient than the Toyota, with city fuel economy 10 mpg (4.3 km/L) less.

Initial volume was moderate and fell sharply, forcing Honda to pull the plug last year.

So what advice do I have for Ito’s successor, the relatively unknown Managing Officer Takahiro Hachigo?

Don’t ever cheap-out on an interior again, no matter how inexpensive the car.

Acura needs a dedicated model, and I’m not talking about the niche NSX. A rear-wheel-drive and/or V-8 powered daily driver would speak volumes about how serious Honda is about the luxury segment.

And promote some non-Japanese executives to key roles.

Despite the U.S. being its largest market for 50 years, Honda at its top is more Japanese in composition than perhaps any other automaker, save for Fuji Heavy (Subaru).

Even Honda's managing officers, a group where you find an American or European at Toyota and Nissan, all are Japanese.

Yes, you can drop an executive into a market, but his experience will be nothing like that of someone who has grown up and lived there.

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