Soichiro Honda founded the company, in 1948. Seventy-three years on, in April 2021, Toshihiro Mibe became the new head of Honda. An engineer with many years of engine development experience, Mibe made waves in the press with his comments at his inaugural press conference that suggested Honda would move away from a reliance on the internal combustion engine. Honda Stories go deeper than the press conference, sharing a glimpse of Toshihiro Mibe, and his views on Honda’s uniqueness.
Joined Honda in 1987. After serving as president of Honda R&D, Mibe became the global CEO of Honda in April 2021. During his days at Honda R&D, Mibe worked on a wide range of research and development initiatives mainly in the field of automobile engines.
My first impression was the sense of freedom within the company, and the strong will to always win and become the world’s first or best. It was Honda’s obsession. There are certain feelings imprinted in my mind at that time, and to this day I do not feel a sense of accomplishment unless I see Honda leading the world. In Honda’s corporate culture, everyone discusses, thinks through, and strives to come up with something better than what already exists. I believe that is Honda’s origin.
Honda was never a stranger to voluntarily taking on tougher challenge to address environmental issues. For example, when new environmental regulations were being discussed in a particular region, Honda accepted a more stringent regulatory proposal among several proposals, believing we could make it happen.
We did that because Honda had a spirit to lead other companies by taking on tougher challenges believing we could win the technology race despite the strict regulations. We always aimed higher.
Companies would usually choose the easier path rather than going after stricter regulations, but Honda didn’t do that. Honda chose to take on the tougher challenge. I witnessed this kind of challenge in my early days as a young engineer, and I thought, "This is a great company.”
On one occasion when Honda developed engines that complied with very strict U.S. emissions regulations, there was a director who demanded to introduce the same engines in Asia where the same regulations did not apply, as “air pollution is not a problem limited to the U.S., but happens all over the world.”
He was seeing things from a broader perspective that we share this world so we should not limit our efforts to countries with strict regulations. Complying with stricter regulations requires higher cost, but Honda had the will to embrace the cost to contribute to society. I felt this was amazing. This kind of experience taught me the unique characteristics of Honda. Honda has always done things this way.
To be honest, I did not aim to become top management. But when asked what kind of president I would like to become, I think of what happens after I leave, rather than the time I am president. We must take actions for the future. I think of what Honda should be like as a sustainable company after I step down.
I need to be a president who sows the seeds for tomorrow, not looking only at today. How should I manage the company to make it better in the future? What decisions should I make? I believe it is vital for management to clarify the answers to these questions.
This year (2021), Honda became 73 years old. We are on track to conduct stable business in the areas of motorcycles and automobiles. This is great asset of Honda. But as we head toward the period of great transformation, it is not good enough to rely only on our stable businesses, as they could hamper us instead. That’s what I am trying to change.
Honda became a large company, so changing our course is not so easy. Even if we know what must be done, we
cannot make changes overnight. There are some things that we cannot change even if we know we have to change.
That said, in new areas, I believe that our approach needs to be completely reset and think it over from
This is the exact reason why I talked about “the period of the second founding” at the inaugural press conference. It is not easy to carve out a new path toward the future, but that is the challenge we need to take on.
Honda’s strength is our people.
When I announced Honda’s aim to make 100 percent of our automobiles sales EVs and FCVs by 2040, I was asked why Honda is abandoning engines. It is not Honda’s engine technologies that are outstanding, it is our people who developed those technologies.
As with the HondaJet, it does not matter what our technologies are applied to. No matter what we put our minds to, we can always develop world-leading technologies. We can leverage our technologies to conduct various businesses. That is Honda’s strength, and that is why I have absolute faith in the people working at Honda. We are one of the most competitive companies on a global level.
Honda has talented associates who can produce anything, and Honda has the ability to create what the world wants by levering the knowledge we have amassed to date. That is Honda’s strength. I don’t believe there are many companies that can take on new challenges like Honda can.
In addition to having outstanding associates, organizing various core technologies has enabled us to explore how we can expand into new areas. This is not on a whim, but has been considered from every angle including potential future market scale. I believe these new areas have the potential to become pillars that support Honda in the future.
Optimal utilization of our people and core technologies enabled us to move fast with our 3D mobility strategy covering land, sea and air, and our 4D mobility with avatar robots. Once the technology is in place, we will announce new sea mobility products as well.
Our vision is to have a Honda logo on all next-generation mobility products. I envisage mobility products straight out of sci-fi movies emblazoned with HONDA. We are aiming for 2050, so I imagine the world to be like a sci-fi movie then.
This is a project on a grand scale to build the future Honda. It will be too late to start it in 2050. Even HondaJet took 30 years.
As top management, I accept the risks in taking on these challenges. That said, it is important for top management to have a determination and be prepared to take responsibility in order to make the business successful. We cannot move forward without reducing risks taken by our engineers. I believe that the management needs to give engineers freedom, and on top of that bring out their potential. Initially many engineers asked me, “Can I really do that?” My reply was, “Go for it!”
The new areas are mainly handled by our younger associates, and there are many engineers in their twenties. My hope is that they see the project to its end. I believe the new generation of engineers will expand our possibilities.
Our aim is not to abandon engines, but to realize carbon neutrality. If zero environmental impact can be realized using engines, one of our greatest achievements, we would use them. However, over a 10 to 20 year span, it is hard to explore possibilities with the internal combustion engine. As an engineer who has worked extensively on engines, I know: we have to change direction at some point.
This has been my opinion since before I became president. When I was asked to assume the presidency, I took it as a golden opportunity to bring positive change. It is natural to have mixed reactions to our announcement, but this has brought about a lot of dialogue within the company. I hope there will be a lot of discussions, and well-thought-out conclusions.
Every automaker aims for carbon neutrality. We are climbing the same mountain, heading toward the same peak. The only difference is the path we take. I believe every company must climb this mountain, and they should do it in the best way that suits them. For Honda, this means no more engines.
Any automaker, including newcomers to the market, can produce EVs. I believe there is no point for Honda to do the same thing as other companies, and we need to create new value that is unique only to Honda. Simply replacing an engine with a motor is not enough. Honda’s EVs will provide new, unique value.
Performance such as driving, stopping and turning are necessary, but I think the value as the “space” for a mobility experience will become more important. The possibilities of how people use their cars as a “space” will be expanded beyond a mere mode of transportation. Honda’s uniqueness will be in expressing new value and offer that to our customers as new forms of mobility.
I am not yet unveiling the specific new value Honda will offer. You know what will happen if I let it slip (laughter). We have visions and concepts.
Of course. We are making steady progress in our research and development with an aim to continue hearing our customers saying “buying a Honda,” not “buying a car.”。
Recent news has focused on what we will not be doing, such as the Legend, Odyssey and NSX. It is unfortunate the we could not announced our new cars at the same time, but in the near future, there will be uniquely Honda cars coming. We are planning many variants including reasonably-priced sports cars.
I also believe we need a flagship model. The importance of a flagship model goes beyond customer enjoyment, as it is vital as a company to showcase new technologies.
New technologies inevitably a have high initial cost. Therefore, without a flagship model through which we can introduce such new technologies, it will be difficult to realize our dream to popularize and expand the application of our new technologies. I’m not sure if it will be a sedan like the Legend, but the next-generation flagship is a necessity, and there will definitely be one.
There must not be fatalities caused by automobiles or motorcycles. This is a basic premise we must have as a mobility maker. The reality is, it took time for the technology to catch up.
Since around 2000, Honda has further strengthened its efforts in developing advanced safety technologies. Honda was able to lead the world with technologies such as CMBS. However, from the perspective of “safety for everyone,” we cannot achieve ideal safety without the widespread adoption of safety technologies. Based on reflection on our past efforts, we have been striving for the widespread application of our safety technologies, including adopting Honda SENSING to all of our vehicles including mini-vehicles.
We aim for zero fatalities, not a 50% reduction, by approaching safety from both development and widespread adoption of advanced technologies. This is the right thing to do for society and also Honda’s way of thinking, and it represents unique characteristics of Honda which chooses to take on difficult challenges.
Another key aspect of safety is “peace of mind.” In addition to offering safety by realizing zero collision fatalities, it is important for our technologies to offer a worry free experience. No matter how much we tell our customers that our cars are safe, they don’t want to drive our cars unless they can drive them with peace of mind. So, I believe offering “peace of mind” in addition to “safety” will become an important value.
For zero traffic collision fatalities to become a reality, collisions must be reduced for motorcycles as well as automobiles. We are, of course, taking this challenge seriously.
As one method to reduce motorcycle-automobile collisions, we have been improving Honda SENSING’s motorcycle detection range and recognition accuracy. However, a complex and expensive system such as Honda SENSING is not suitable for motorcycles. Therefore, we are conducting research to equip motorcycles with sensors to further improve detectability by automobiles.
I believe Honda is in a unique position to develop this technology because we produce both motorcycles and automobiles.
I believe the key to the development and widespread adoption of highly sophisticated safety technologies is the will of management to pursue such technologies.
Due to the small number of vehicles initially equipped with a new technology, the cost gets high. The managers in charge of the business sometimes have to make a decision not to adopt the technology to avoid selling the vehicle at a loss. When this happens, the will of management becomes important.
When management says, “Don’t give up!” the manager’s mindset changes significantly. If we don’t give up, we don’t fail. It is beyond such continued pursuit that a great value will be created. This was the case with the Level 3 automated driving system in the Legend. It was a tough call from a business perspective, but I believe it was worth introducing that model at that timing.
We will continue pursuing research and development in this area, and we will further advance our technology to create new value.
At one point, Honda lost its focus on customers and pursued becoming the world’s first or best, or unique. That caused a decline in business.
If we only prioritize being unique, we get satisfied when we do things other companies are not doing. But it is a completely different story if our customers appreciate that uniqueness.
We think through to the essence about what value our users really want, and what it offers to our customers. We think so much to the point we end up dreaming about it, and we even come up with the answer in our dreams.
We realize the value resulting from thinking through to the very essence of something, and then we add our uniqueness to it. This is what makes Honda truly unique and how we can differentiate Honda from others.
I hope people will see Honda as a company that makes their wishes and dreams in their head a reality. This would lead to people being glad that Honda exists, and hopeful that Honda could make more dreams come true. In other words, a company that people, and society, want to exist.
Striving to be such company, Honda will keep on tackling tough challenges. And we will move forward aggressively while continuing to compete head-to-head in the world of mobility.
Oh well, that means I will be very busy until I step down as president (laughter).*Interview and photography conducted while observing COVID precautions.