Recent embarrassing scandals involving some top Japanese automakers have certainly eroded the reputation of “Japan, Inc.” for quality, as the once-mighty industrial world leader battle fierce global competition and shrinking relevance. The images of corporate bosses bowing deeply in apology has been splashed across news outlets leading to a fresh bout of soul-searching in this era of China and India’s manufacturing rise.
The running of the 45th Tokyo Motor Show has come at a very opportune time as these carmakers begin looking far forward into the future, perhaps as a way to forget the scandals of the here and now. Whether that’s their way of trying not to deal with present problems is another story; the important thing is that the most recent outing of the biennial motor show sees Japan returning as a technology leader once more. Just as Japan benefited from a rapid economic expansion in the 1970s driven by manufacturing, it’s poised to do the same, only this time, the growth is driven by the cutting-edge.
Honda, for example, has understood that the business landscape is dancing to a different beat: the shift of consumer preference, the advancement of urban centers, the aging of society, and the changing of climate. Thus, they’ve begun re-orienting their entire company in order to meet these challenges head-on. Outlining “Vision 2030,” Honda President and CEO Takahiro Hachigo said this is necessary for the carmaker not just to thrive, but to survive.
Echoing founder Soichiro Honda who said: “We only have one future, and it will be made of our dreams, if we have the courage to challenge convention,” the industrial giant that bears his namesake prepares itself for the challenge. In order to realize Vision 2030, Honda has outlined three initiatives which will dictate everything they do moving forward.
The first is “creating value for ‘mobility’ and ‘daily lives.’” With changes expected to be spurred by the introduction of autonomous driving, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence, Honda wants to be the company that provides the joy in making peoples’ lives better. With their strength lying in their broad technological capabilities (they make everything from motorcycles to aircraft to humanoid robots), Honda aims to cultivate them, expanding their efforts into the development of technology, products, and services.
An example of this is how Honda plans to roll out a car with “Level 4” standard autonomous driving functions, meaning it can drive itself on highways and city roads under most conditions by 2025. Though late to the self-driving game compared to rival carmakers, they’re making up for lost time, ramping up, and expanding their R&D initiatives.
“We only have one future, and it will be made of our dreams, if we have the courage to challenge convention.” —Soichiro Honda
Second, is to “accommodate the different characteristics of people and society.” Honda aims to provide people from all walks of life not only with something they want and need, but something they have never seen before or imagined. Honda intends to contribute to the over seven billion people around the world who have various values regardless of age, gender, differences in culture, or presence or non-presence of disabilities.
Therefore, Honda plans to create products and services that put people at the core. It won’t be the advancement of technology simply for technology’s sake, but rather, technology will be utilized to help people.
The final direction is “toward a clean and safe/secure society.” Honda will strive to become the leader in environmental and safety initiatives and will accelerate in promoting electrification as well as the effective use of renewable energy. Hand-in-hand, the company will also aim to improve vehicle safety through intelligent and connectivity technologies.
In order to achieve this, Honda plans to electrify two-thirds of their global automotive offerings by 2030. Currently at about five percent, Honda has established a dedicated team to develop purely electric vehicles along with other low-emissions efforts such as gasoline-hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cell vehicles.
The most tangible result is seen through a pair of concept cars that took centerstage at the Tokyo Motor Show. The first is the Urban EV Concept, which is a cutesy urban commuter that’s been greenlit for production in 2019. Running on a dedicated EV platform, it runs on 240 kilometers on a single charge.
The second is a sexy sportscar concept based off the same platform. The Sports EV Concept tugs at the heartstrings of sportscar lovers everywhere with its retro-futuristic styling. It even comes with an artificial intelligence system on-board to create communication that “unites driver and car.” For the present, Honda is making its crash avoidance technology, Honda SENSING standard in all vehicles sold in its home market. Additionally, they will be expanding its deployment to more models globally.
As Japan faces stepped-up competition from all over the world, there are concerns that the once industrial leader is falling behind. Japan has realized this and is re-orienting itself, tapping into technological innovations to prove that they are still the global trend-setters in mobility and transportation.
With a growing base of 28 million customers annually (a combination of motorcycle, automobile, and power product users), it sounds like an arduous task for Honda. However, their ability to maintain a strong relationship with that many customers for such a long period isn’t just proof that they offer a broad range of attractive products and services; it also serves as a large base for the industry leader to spread their message. The challenge to expand and enrich their customers is alive and well at Honda, and it still continues to drive the company and its people for close to 70 years.