My thoughts on upcoming changes to Honda’s design process.

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As many people may know by now Honda’ s new CEO Takahiro Hachigo has recently announced they are making drastic changes to their design process.

Among these changes there will be a decrease in the influence sales and marketing has on the process and giving more control to the engineers. Aside from the obvious economic benefits this slimming down will have, this seems to be an attempt to re-capture a little bit of that  80’s magic that Honda established its brand on.

I for one applaud the idea.

Honda’s reputation for excellent build quality and its consistency in doing so is what allowed it to capture such a large market share throughout the 80’s. It has for the most part managed to maintain this build quality up to the present with few exceptions.

It sounds like things couldn’t be better but somewhere along the way they seemed to lose a certain something that’s hard to quantify. While they’ve kept all the original ingredients, they’ve changed the mixture and added a few too many extra ingredients in some dishes.

This may not be an entirely accurate analogy but if you ran a restaurant; Would you let the people that do your advertising tell you what to put in the food?

Obviously in any company there is still a need for sales and marketing to announce what your latest product is, how shiny and cool it looks driving up a building, drifitng on top of a nuclear sub (Don’t try this at home kids) and how it now has 16 remote control cupholders with built in WiFi. However, maybe these folks should be kept out of the design room.

Through the years a gradual bloating of size and features has been seen in almost every successive generation of model. This applies to most makes, and has effected Honda as well. If there IS a car that Honda makes right now that still captures most of its 80’s essence, I would have to say it’s the Fit.

So how did Honda create the magic to begin with?

They did this by letting the engineers design the cars.

Imagine that. Engineers designing cars.

I may be being overly sarcastic here but it always seemed fairly obvious to me that if you want to produce a brand that lasts, simply focus on creating an excellent product & it will end up selling itself.

Engineers, while they may initially appear boring in their white lab coats and such, are rumored to actually like fun. They also don’t tend to care about boring stuff like quarterly earnings, projected sales figures, or trying to make a product so bland it will theoretically appeal to every potential buyer or at least alienate very few.

I’m getting sidetracked though, the point is that when you let the engineers do the designing, the overall design seems to be more focused on performance, efficiency and safety instead of how many new mostly pointless doodads and gizmos you can fit into next years version without jacking up the price too much. Trinkets are nice, and aesthetics ARE important, but I’m doubtful that having a particular in-dash navigation system has ever been the deciding factor in a car sale.

Aside from getting laden with the usual bloat in features and size as time went on the recipe was altered. Honda had all the same ingredients for the most part but the proportions were off and some of the key flavors were getting harder to taste in the mix.

In today’s automotive market relative build quality and performance is at an all time high for ALL marques. In a market where everyone’s product is so comparable it becomes difficult to distinguish itself. it takes more than just reliability and a nice engine to get ahead. In that haze of awkward dash layouts and dual zone climate controlled trunks they may have lost sight of what made them that much better to begin with. It’s time to stop and take a look back at how they got there.

Anyone who’s ever driven an 80’s era Honda in “proper” condition would probably understand. In its heyday Honda somehow managed to combine just right mix of build quality, performance, features, cost and sheer utility then somehow managed to find space in the recipe for fun. In fact they somehow managed to cram a lot more fun into the mix than it seemed they should have been be able to.

The point is that when you let The chefs do the cooking and the salesmen worry about promotion, the food comes out a lot better!

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