"We're really excited about this," Frank Paluch, president of Honda R&D Americas, told Automotive News. "It's the next step in the expansion of what we've already done here, and this collaboration and partnership is going to give us new seeds that we can plant today to harvest the technologies of tomorrow."
Honda Motor Co.'s presence in Silicon Valley isn't new; the company set up shop there in 2000 and formally opened a lab in 2003. That was years before a wave of automakers established operations on the tech industry's home turf in hopes of luring top young engineers and programmers to their increasingly software-driven business.
Honda was also well ahead of its competitors in identifying itself as a "mobility" company, rather than just a car company. Its range of products underscores this: Under the "red Honda" corporate banner, the company makes everything from walking-assist devices to outboard motors to motorcycles by the millions, and soon a five-passenger jet.
No wonder Honda spends so much on r&d. From 2006 to 2014, the auto industry spent an average of 11.4 percent of its revenue on r&d and capital expenditures annually, according to AlixPartners, a New York consulting firm. Honda's total: 17.5 percent annually, far outpacing No. 2 BMW.
For the fiscal year ended March 31, Honda reported ¥662.6 billion ($5.5 billion) in r&d expenses, and forecast a 7 percent increase for the current fiscal year.
But with more glamorous companies such as Apple, Google and Tesla drawing oohs and aahs in auto circles, and many of its mainstream competitors rapidly expanding their presence in Silicon Valley, Honda has felt a need to remind the tech and transportation industries -- not to mention consumers -- of its engineering might, said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
"Forty years ago, Honda was the young upstart of that era," said Nerad. But after watching Honda pump out reliable, mainstream products, he said, consumers have forgotten that disruptive mentality.
The new Silicon Valley r&d center is part of a renewed effort to get disparate teams to work together and better project that innovative streak.
The move was championed by two executives who have risen to the highest ranks at Honda, Paluch said: Takuji Yamada, named CEO of American Honda Motor Co. in April 2014, and Takahiro Hachigo, who became Honda Motor Co.'s CEO in June.
They wanted departments and programs to avoid the silo effect and gain a better understanding of how seemingly unrelated projects can share components.
Such as the Uni-Cub. It uses an angle sensor Honda initially developed for its Asimo robot, which later found a home in its MotoGP racing motorcycle and finally in the current generation Honda Civic.