TOKYO — As an engineering student in the 1960s, Takeo Fukui picked the analysis of nitrogen dioxide emissions as his senior thesis with one goal in mind: joining Honda Motor to get a foothold in the world of racing.
He made the cut — but, as luck would have it, Honda pulled out of racing that same year, in 1969. Founder Soichiro Honda had decided the company should focus on improving its engines to cut emissions for an increasingly green-minded public.
Forty years later, Fukui leaves behind a similar mandate as he vacates his president's post this month, having yanked Honda out of Formula One racing six months ago.
He will be succeeded by Takanobu Ito, who marks a break from previous Honda presidents. He never worked on the CVCC engine project that cemented Honda's image as an engine company first and foremost. Fukui and other predecessors were known for devising engines and building cars around them. Ito is a chassis expert.
While auto executives talk about the dawn of a new century of automobiles as gasoline-electric hybrid cars enter the mainstream, Fukui says traditional internal combustion engines will remain at the core of Honda's efforts. "You can't improve the hybrid system without working on engines, " he told Reuters.