TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co. will soon learn whether giving a designer with no engineering experience five years to develop a sports car is pure genius or plain madness.
Ryo Mukumoto was 22 and into his third year making mock-ups at Honda's research arm when he beat about 400 other entries in an in-house competition.
Honda made him the youngest lead engineer in the company's history and gave him a young team to help translate his ideas into reality.
Mukumoto's vision -- a low-slung roadster inspired by a speeding bullet -- goes on sale next month in the most competitive segment in Japan's shrinking car market.
"People of my generation think cars are simply a tool for transportation," Mukumoto, now 26, said in an interview in Wako City, Japan.
"I wanted them to say -- hmm, this car is different," he said. "We have made a car that will turn heads."
The introduction of the S660 roadster, named for the 660-cc engine capacity limit that defines the minicar category unique in Japan, comes as Honda searches for a way out of record vehicle recalls and quality lapses.
The company has blamed these problems in part on an overly ambitious sales target that placed undue stress on its vaunted engineers.
Honda President Takanobu Ito, himself a motorcycle-racing engineer, will step down in June after leading the company for six years through a tumultuous period that began with a global recession, followed by natural disasters and unfavorable exchange rates, and ending in deaths from defective airbags installed in its cars.