Tokyo. Honda Motor chief executive Takanobu Ito will step down in late June after six years in the top post and be succeeded by managing officer Takahiro Hachigo, a low-profile engineer with global experience, the company said in a surprise announcement on Monday.
Japan’s number three automaker has hit a rough patch over the past year with quality problems that have led to multiple recalls of its popular Fit hybrid subcompact, which Ito conceded earlier this month could have been caused at least in part by an aggressive sales target.
Such self-inflicted setbacks had been compounded by multi-million-vehicle recalls to replace air bag inflators made by top supplier Takata that have so far been linked to six deaths, all in Honda cars.
For the past three years, Ito, 61, a feisty former supercar engineer, has shaken up Honda’s decades-old, tightly-knit supply chain as the automaker sought to trim costs and find more cutting-edge technologies. That has predictably rankled local suppliers, and some retired Honda executives maneuvered to have Ito removed, sources have told Reuters.
“I think this move is an attempt by Honda to tread a different course, with someone who upholds harmony,” said Takaki Nakanishi, an auto analyst and chief executive of Nakanishi Research Institute.
A former senior Honda official said he was surprised by Monday’s announcement. Hachigo had been widely expected to join Honda’s board, but “like many inside Honda, I’d thought Ito was ready to continue as chief executive at least for another term.”
Hachigo would skip several ranks to become chief after Honda’s annual shareholders’ meeting in late June.
Ito will remain on the board and become an adviser to Honda.