TOKYO — Honda Motor Co. and its CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, both celebrated 60-year milestones this year. Hachigo was born in May 1959, and three weeks later, Honda established American Honda Co. in Los Angeles as the Japanese company's first overseas subsidiary. Today, Honda and Hachigo still lean on the U.S. as the carmaker's most important market.
American Honda posted a modest U.S. sales increase through October, but it bucked the market's overall decline and helped the parent company keep a 6.1 percent operating profit margin.
But changing times mean changing tactics. To keep earnings flowing, Hachigo is overhauling everything from product development to production. The effort means forging more loose partnerships to tap new technologies, while passing on capital tie-ups that might undermine Honda's independence.
Hachigo, speaking through an interpreter, talked with Chief Content Officer Jamie Butters and Asia Editor Hans Greimel in October about the U.S. outlook, ambitions for the Acura brand and preparations for his successors. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: How do you see the U.S. market shaping up, this year and next?
A: We believe overall demand will be somewhere around 17 million units, plus or minus. Against that backdrop, I believe our performance will slightly surpass that of 2018, and I hope we can end at 1.6 million units. Regarding 2020, there are several lingering uncertainties. But given the fact we will be introducing several model changes, I have hopes for these new models.
I believe the automobile market will be stable, meaning we will stay at around current volume. We're not expecting dramatic growth, we expect to keep the current levels and grow steadily from there. But we have to monitor the proportion of light trucks to passenger cars, as well as uncertainties surrounding the global economic environment.
How will Acura achieve its stated U.S. annual sales target of 200,000 vehicles?
Whether we reach 200,000 units is just a result of our efforts toward the Acura brand. At the 2016 Detroit motor show, we introduced Acura as the "Precision Crafted Performance" vehicle, and we have been working on that since. Last year, we launched a full-model change based on that with the RDX. Last August, we introduced a Type S concept car, and we will be infusing this concept into different models in the coming years. If Type S is well received by customers, it will help raise overall brand appeal. Through such actions, I believe we will be able to get there.