Honda is in the midst one of the most important transitional periods in its history. The brand’s once sterling reputation for safety, quality, and value took a battering in 2014 as the Takata airbag scandal caused the automaker to recall over five million vehicles – the largest number of recalls for any automaker involved. As a result, Honda’s operating income fell 22.5%, as the automaker blamed “quality-related expenses in North America” as a major factor. Because of their failure to report safety issues to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Government fined the company $70 million, the largest fine ever issued by the NHTSA.
Amid this chaos, big changes are happening at the automaker, and last week Honda announced that its president and Chief Executive Officer Takanobu Ito will leave the top post in June. Ito joined Honda in 1978 as an engineer working on chassis design, and rose through the company’s research and development division until he was named CEO in 2009. While the recent scandals have come to overshadow his achievements, Ito has had considerable success at Honda’s helm for the past six years.
Ito spent much of his tenure transforming the automaker into an even more competitive global company. In a press release, Honda was quick to point out that under Ito’s guidance “Honda was able to actively evolve its global manufacturing structure, notably the establishment of automobile plants in Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Indonesia, India and China.” While expanding the company’s global footprint, Ito also guided the company through an aggressive overhaul of its supply chain guidelines to make the company more environmentally responsible.
While his international success have strengthened Honda as a company overall, Ito will probably be most remembered for bringing performance back to the brand. While the company may not be known outright for its performance pedigree, Honda’s racing roots run back to the company’s car-building beginning. In 1965, the RA 272 race car was the first Japanese car to win an international Grand Prix – just four years after the company began building cars. Off the track, their unique and innovative range of sports cars like the Honda CRX, Acura Integra Type-R, and NSX have gone on to become some of the most legendary sports cars of the last 30 years.
Drawing on this rich history, here are 5 Hondas released during Takanobu Ito’s tenure that will help Honda weather the current storm and help it regain its performance pedigree — though not all of which happened in the automotive field.
1. McLaren-Honda MP4-30
Released this January, the MP4-30 shows that Honda is focused on performance in a way they haven’t been in years. The McLaren-Honda partnership is best known for the iconic MP 4/4 car that was driven by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the legendary 1988 Formula One season, and after a six-year absence from the sport, Honda hopes that re-teaming with its legendary racing partner will bring racing prestige back to the brand. With drivers like Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button behind the wheel, it looks like the MP4-30 with take its share of checkered flags this year.
2. Honda Accord EX-L Coupe
The Accord EX-L coupe may look like the exact opposite of a Formula One car, but it’s a capable performer in its own right – albeit a low-profile one. Under the coupe’s uninspiring bodywork lies a beautifully responsive 3.5 liter VTEC V6 that was named Wards Auto’s Best Engine of 2014. Mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission, the 278 horsepower engine takes the big coupe from zero to 60 in the mid-five second range. On top of its near-muscle car performance, the Accord coupe is also the last of a dying breed: It’s the last mid-sized two-door sedan on the market in its price bracket.
3. 2016 Honda Civic Type-R
As Honda continues to torture American fans with an endless “will-they won’t-they” deliberation on whether or not the car will make it to the U.S., the 2016 Civic Type-R is nearing production – and it’s shaping up to be one of the most formidable performance cars in the world. While the five-door Civic the European-spec Type-R is based on isn’t available in the American market, Honda has confirmed that the engine from the car will be available in future U.S. cars. Honda’s engineers declared that the Type-R is designed to become the fastest front-wheel drive car to lap the Nürburgring, and with the hot-hatch market growing in the U.S, and the Ford Focus RS due to hit U.S. streets later this year, Honda has some very good reasons to bring the Type-R stateside.
4. 2016 Acura NSX
When it was introduced in 1989, the Acura NSX represented the next generation of supercars. It was as beautiful and as fast as an Italian exotic, but it was reliable enough that you didn’t have to worry about it leaving you stranded. After a storied 15-year production run, the NSX bowed out after 2005. A new NSX had been in the works since 2007, but the finished car finally come to fruition under Takanobu Ito’s leadership. The new NSX utilizes an advanced aluminum and carbon fiber construction and an electric powertrain that bring the storied nameplate well into the 21st century. Performance numbers haven’t been revealed yet, but Honda claims the car makes “over 550 horsepower.” After the long wait, it looks like this NSX will be well worth it.
5. HA-420 Honda Jet
In perhaps the most radical vehicle to wear a Honda badge under Takanobu Ito’s tenure, The HA-420 Honda Jet is currently being prepped for its final tests for Federal Aviation Administration certification. The small jet features a unique over-the-wing engine layout for increased room in the fuselage, and one of the most advanced cockpits in aviation. Honda expects to build 100 of the jets a year, and hopes that their radical design and engineering prestige will help it take the aviation industry by storm.
While Takanobu Ito steps down as Honda’s CEO during a trying time for the company, he has left an indelible mark on the company and its direction for the future. Ito is being replaced by Takahiro Hachigo, an engineer who was notably in charge of the developing the first-generation Odyssey minivan. With another engineer taking the helm, it looks like Honda will continue to rehab its reputation by building some of the most progressive and technically advanced vehicles in the world. If these five vehicles are any indication of Honda’s future, it should make up that lost ground pretty quick.
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