TOKYO -- When Takahiro Hachigo was abruptly named Honda Motor Co. CEO last year amid spiraling quality problems, he pledged to revive the troubled automaker through a back-to-basics focus on better cars and streamlined production.
Nearly a year later, with Honda still battling quality issues, the veteran engineer is revamping that comeback plan.
The fix, says Hachigo, 56, will come from rekindling the company's pioneering r&d spirit, once the envy of the industry with its knack for churning out innovative vehicles.
"We recognize the need for a fundamental transformation," he said last week while outlining the strategy. In designing cars for multiple regional markets, Honda was growing at "a pace and scale beyond our means," he conceded.
The recalibration targets the initial stages of r&d, creating new posts committed to design and performance. It is a return to Honda's roots, a DNA Hachigo knows well from his days as a lead engineer on the popular Odyssey minivan and CR-V crossover.
Reinvigorating Honda's originality won't be easy.
The redesigned Civic shows why.
When the car was launched late last year, it was hailed as a taste of Honda's glory days. In January, it won the North American Car of the Year title.
But the afterglow dimmed last week, when Honda recalled some 42,000 of the new cars to fix a piston problem that can cause the engine to seize and possibly catch fire.
Honda's image has been further tarnished by soaring recalls due to faulty airbag inflators made by affiliated supplier Takata Corp., which have been linked to nine fatalities in Honda vehicles. Honda has recalled 30 million inflators worldwide.
Meanwhile, Honda must tackle other structural problems, including bloated overcapacity in Japan. Because it had shifted so much production overseas in recent years, Honda failed to cash in on exports when the yen finally began to weaken.
Hachigo now aims to rebalance global production by ramping up output in Japan for exports to North America and Europe.
"The key issue will be how far the company can square the circle between controlling product quality and ramping up models simultaneously worldwide," J.P. Morgan auto analyst Akira Kishimoto wrote in a report after Hachigo's news conference.