How to transform a carmaker? Just watch Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe

Just take a look at the story on Page 1 of the Nov. 15 issue of Automotive News. It’s based on our first one-on-one interview with the new chief executive. Among the key points:

  • Honda, the first Japanese car company to build vehicles in the U.S., is now the first Japanese automaker to pledge to become gasoline-free by 2040. As part of that goal, it will introduce its own dedicated EV platform and solid-state batteries in the second half of this decade.
  • It is abandoning its long-standing go-it-alone strategy and embracing partnerships, including a number with General Motors.
  • It intends to commercialize electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft by 2030. It is also developing small, reusable rockets that can put satellites into low Earth orbit.

Talk is cheap, you say. Maybe so. But it’s pretty hard to ignore the head of Honda when he says, “Honda will not be an automotive company anymore.”

And remember, internal combustion engines are a bigger part of Honda’s DNA than they are at most automakers. The well-worn line is that Honda at its core is an engine company that wraps things like cars and motorcycles and lawn mowers around them.

The bigger picture is that Japan’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 is a big deal in that country.

Mibe took his assignment April 1. Three weeks later, he made the all-EV/fuel cell pledge, just as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was addressing the Leaders Summit on Climate, hosted by the U.S. The early comments of the new CEO were in sync and well timed with the prime minister’s goals.

But in his short time at the helm, Mibe is leaving a mark as someone who is serious about making an impact that goes far beyond today’s political expedience.

“Whether Mibe can do it or not is one matter,” Takaki Nakanishi, head auto analyst at Nakanishi Research Institute in Tokyo, says in our Page 1 story. “But he has made the commitment to try. And that is what is different from other Japanese auto leaders.”

Mibe says the grand plan is still taking shape. But we won’t have to wait long for it to crystallize. Honda may announce fresh details, such as product and battery strategies for North America, by early next year.

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