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Honda names new president to lead charge into electric era

Development head Mibe seen by Japan carmaker as environmental expert

Toshihiro Mibe, Honda's next president, speaks at a news conference in Tokyo on February 19. (Photo by Ryosuke Hanada)

TOKYO -- Honda Motor has named the chief of its research and development arm as its new president as the Japanese automaker shifts further toward electric vehicles and carbon-neutral production.

Toshihiro Mibe will take up his new post in April, Honda announced on Friday, following a decision by its board of directors.

Mibe has been chief of Honda R&D, the company's development unit, since 2019 and has long worked on engine development and environmental initiatives.

He told reporters that he would build on technologies he has focused on during his career to make Japan's second largest carmaker "more resilient."

Stressing Honda's goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, which echoes a Japanese government target, Mibe will be expected to expand the company's switch toward electric vehicles. Takahiro Hachigo, the outgoing president, said Mibe is an "expert of environmental performance."

Prompted by government efforts to combat climate change -- and responding to consumer interest, which has helped EV market leader Tesla overtake Japan's Toyota Motor as the most valuable automaker by market capitalization -- most global carmakers are boosting their efforts to produce electric vehicles.

Mibe reiterated the environmental challenges and suggested that a series of reforms will be required to make the business economically viable.

"I understand the difficulty of electrification, including technology," Mibe said. "It is not enough to develop an EV product; we also need to look carefully at procurement, production and sales. ... EV products and businesses can only be balanced by doing so."

Having the right infrastructure, including vehicle charging stations, will also define the fate of the business, he said.

Shoring up Honda's auto business, which was plagued by inefficiency and weak profits, was the biggest challenge for Hachigo, who took charge in 2015. He led various reforms, including rationalizing global production capacity and pulling the company out of Formula 1.

He also oversaw the absorption last April of Honda R&D, a research entity once headed by legendary founder Soichiro Honda over half a century ago.

"Honda is ready to take off for a new era," said Hachigo, who will retire in June.

The auto business's operating margin improved to 4.7% for the latest October-December quarter, compared with 1.3% a year earlier.

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