Honda promotes head of R&D to CEO as carmaker grapples with EVs and automation

February 19, 2021, 11:24 AM UTC

Honda Motor Co. is promoting its current head of research and development Toshihiro Mibe to chief executive, the latest in a number of bold moves the automaker is taking to step beyond its more than half-a-century-long reliance on selling gasoline-powered cars.

Mibe, 59, will assume the president role effective April 1, the company said in a statement Friday. Honda’s current CEO Takahiro Hachigo, who helmed the firm for six years, will become a director as of that date and then retire from the company at its general meeting in June.

Honda’s new chief is taking the top job as the Japanese carmaker pushes to stay abreast of the two great shifts hitting the auto industry: automation and electrification. Since joining Honda in 1987, Mibe has occupied various roles, including as the chief of Honda’s R&D subsidiary, where he was central to driving the company’s electric vehicle technologies and autonomous driving strategies.

Honda, like most legacy automakers, is struggling to find ways to fund next-generation electric and driverless car technologies while keeping its gas-powered car sales afloat. Hachigo, who took office in 2015, sought to move away from past initiatives prioritizing scale to focus on costs. Under his leadership, Honda trimmed a number of factories in Japan and abroad.

“Honda has worked to solidify its existing businesses and prepare for future growth. My job is to accelerate,” said Mibe, speaking at a briefing Friday. Honda in the past has sought to do everything internally, but as the company faces once-in-an-era changes, “time is of the essence and I would opt to use alliances and external insight to accelerate our shift,” he said.

In recent months, Honda has taken a number of steps to reallocate resources into next-generation technologies. In September, it formed an alliance with General Motors Co. to cooperate in areas such as research and connected-car services. The next month, Honda announced it will no longer participate in Formula One racing, seeking to reallocate resources to its development of EV and fuel-cell technologies.

Honda, which aims to electrify two thirds of its global car sales by 2030, has weathered a tough 2020, a period when vehicle sales were crushed by pandemic-related disruptions. It’s targeting an operating profit of 520 billion yen ($5 billion) for the 12 months through March, down about 18% from the previous year.

The automaker is also grappling with a chip shortage that’s forcing automakers worldwide to pare their output just as car demand begins to recover. The semiconductor shortage is estimated to knock 500,000 units off of Japanese carmakers’ output largely in the first half. Within Japan, it’s estimated Honda will shoulder the bulk of those losses.