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Lunchtime debate: what does Honda CEO change mean for RC213V-S?

With a change of bigwigs at the big H, the road-going RCV concept seems less certain to reach production, argues Visordown’s anonymous industry expert

SINCE taking the reins at Honda in 2009, Takanobu Ito has gained a reputation for making bold moves. Now he’s being replaced by a low-key executive with a less illustrious background – but is that bad news for the firm’s motorcycle arm, and particularly the RC213V-S concept?

Neither Ito nor his replacement, Takahiro Hachigo, who will take over in June, have a background in motorcycles (unlike the previous CEO, Takeo Fukui, who was a former HRC president and instrumental in the development of the NR750 and original Fireblade). Both rose through the ranks of the firm’s car division before being promoted to run factories, departments and eventually the entire company.

But if you’ve got an interest in the spicier side of Honda’s output, you may want to know about the different paths Ito and Hachigo took to the CEO position.

Each man rose to prominence within the firm by heading up the development of a key new model. In Ito’s case, it was the 1990-on NSX, an all-aluminium, mid-engined supercar that went toe-to-toe with the likes of Ferrari’s 348 and Porsche’s 911. It was a critical success, loved by all who sat in it including Honda’s biggest star of the era, Ayrton Senna, who helped hone its handling and later used one as a company car.

Hachigo’s breakthrough machine was rather different. The 1999 Honda Odyssey was a minivan, the first Honda of its ilk to be assembled in North America. If you’re reading this in the UK, it’s probably not a model you’re familiar with; it wasn’t sold over here. He then did the 2002-2006 CR-V, which was offered here – you tend to see them meandering down country lanes with caravans hitched to the back.

Ito’s greatest hit is remembered today as a landmark machine, but it probably never made much money for Honda.  Sales were slim throughout its life. Potential owners, even if tempted by the car’s performance and handling, would often baulk at the last minute, preferring to have a Ferrari or Porsche key instead of a Honda one, even if the car it slotted into was less accomplished.

In contrast, nobody has ever drooled over an Odyssey or a CR-V - but they have bought them in droves. It’s a safe bet that the two Hachigo-spawned machines made Honda a lot more money than Ito’s masterpiece ever did.

Since 2009, when Ito took over, Honda has announced a host of new machines intended to bring back a spark that the firm’s four-wheeled line-up has been missing for a few years. There’s a new NSX supercar coming soon, although it’s been endlessly delayed and redesigned, and the promise of a small sports car too. He’s brought back the sporty Civic Type-R and taken Honda back to F1 racing. On two wheels, Ito was the man who officially announced that Honda was going ahead with a MotoGP-inspired road bike, the project that finally broke cover late last year as the RC213V-S.

It seems likely that Ito's enthusiasm to reconfirm Honda as a leader in performance and technology led fairly directly to the development of the RC213V-S, a straightforward road-going replica of the MotoGP RC213V. Like the new NSX project, it’s been subject to arguments and delays within Honda – it was more than two years after Ito’s initial announcement in 2012 that the bike was revealed as a ‘concept’ at last year’s shows.

With Ito shifted away from the levers of power, that ‘concept’ tag becomes more of a concern. Under Ito, there was little doubt the bike would, eventually, be built. He’d personally announced it, and a U-turn while he remained in charge seemed unthinkable. But now the possibility looms far larger that the whole thing could be quietly swept under the carpet without anyone suffering embarrassment. 

Of course, Hachigo may opt to go ahead with it anyway. And if he doesn’t, some may argue that the loss of a £150,000, limited-edition superbike, of which many examples would likely be put on display instead of ridden, is no loss at all.

But I fall into the camp that thinks Honda needs someone with a bit of brass neck in charge. Someone who’s prepared to break with convention and take a step into the unknown, even if it risks losing money - simply because it’s an interesting and innovative thing to do.

Soichiro Honda was like that. So was Takeo Fukui. So was Ito.

Does Takahiro Hachigo have that spark? His career highlights suggest he’s a man who can make very good appliances that are popular and profitable among mainstream buyers. Great if you’re a Honda shareholder. But maybe not such exciting news if you’re a Honda fan.

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