WAKO, Japan -- In recent years, designers at Honda Motor Co. have zigged as the market zagged.
Now it is the task of two young stylists, abruptly promoted last September, to get Honda in sync with the times.
Toshinobu Minami, a young up-and-comer who penned the latest NSX concept, was tapped to lead global exterior design.
Yoshinori Asahi, a stylist with a penchant for American muscle cars, got the job as worldwide head of interiors.
The duo agree on one thing: Honda overestimated the impact of the global financial crisis and misjudged consumer tastes. The company's top market forecasters had bet that customers would put a new premium on fuel-efficient, no-frills cars.
Enthusiasm for fuel efficiency didn't fade. But customers flocked instead to cars sporting upscale features and bold, emotional styling. Upstart brands such as Hyundai and Kia began offering high trim and affordable prices.
"Against that, maybe our minimalist, efficiency-based focus of style may have had a bit of a gap with what the times were dictating," Asahi, 48, said during a recent interview of the two stylists at Honda's global design center just outside Tokyo.
He added: "We thought people would go for more simple things after the financial crisis."
Now Minami and Asahi concede that Honda thought wrong.
The two are working on a new design language under the banner "Exciting H Design," which should debut in full for the 2016 model year. Elements are seen in the following concepts:
-- The Honda AC-X hybrid touring sedan
-- The Honda Micro Commuter electric city runabout
-- The Honda EV-ster open-cockpit roadster
-- The Acura NSX sports car
Styling points will include a grille-headlight combination that runs together in what Minami, 44, calls the Solid Wing Face.
Sheet-metal treatment also will get more sophisticated, with a richer blend of hidden and exposed surfaces, Minami said.
Inside the cabin, Honda will prioritize eye-catching man-machine interface, dials and displays and will pack its cars with more telecommunications connectivity and safety features.
Honda's designers are too reliant on computers and driven by number and calculations, Minami complained. Now they will depend more on their five senses -- climbing into mock cockpits to assess roominess instead of blindly adhering to preset dimensions in computer models.
"We don't want to lose the clean dynamism that we always had. But we want to add more flavor," Minami said.
In recent years, younger stylists have grown frustrated with Honda's less-is-more look, the new bosses said.
But changing that mind-set will still take some nudging.
"Designers tend to get more conservative as they work from their initial ideas to the final drawing. They try to be safe," Asahi noted. "It takes courage for them to show what they think is their true design. We need to give them that courage."