TAKASU, Japan -- Takanobu Ito inherited a colossal to-do list when he took over as CEO of Honda Motor Co. in 2009. The embattled company needed to reduce its global cost structure, shield itself from the surging yen, spice up stale styling and close a widening hybrid-vehicle gap with archrival Toyota.
Pieces of his comeback plan have slowly fallen into place since then. But no vehicle symbolizes Ito's wide-ranging efforts more than the redesigned Honda Fit that goes on sale in Japan in September and hits U.S. showrooms by next summer.
For a third-generation vehicle, the new Fit racks up a long list of firsts and marks a turning point for Honda on many levels.
It is the first vehicle showcasing the Honda brand's new design language. And the hybrid version will be the first using Honda's new one-motor, dual-clutch gasoline-electric drivetrain.
The U.S. version will be the first Fit manufactured in North America. Also, the new-generation Fit is the first car coming out of Ito's overhauled global vehicle development strategy.
Honda's new subcompact tackles many of the problems hobbling Honda since Ito became CEO. It foreshadows bold changes throughout the lineup -- and some big risks.
- The new design language aims to bury criticism that Honda's styling is bland, its interiors uninspired swaths of plastic.
- The re-engineered hybrid drivetrain aims to break Honda's losing streak in hybrids and challenge Toyota's dominance.
- The new Mexican assembly plant that will make the Fit doubles down on Ito's bet that Americans are shifting to small cars and defangs the foreign exchange rate risk on exporting from Japan.
- And the fresh r&d push aims to optimize global cars for regional markets by tweaking the engineering for cheaper local suppliers.