TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co., announcing its fifth Fit recall in just 12 months, has taken the unprecedented step of appointing its first quality czar to clamp down on the carmaker’s problems.
The company’s top executives will also take pay cuts for three months to take responsibility for the recall-plagued car, which was recalled Oct. 23 for a fifth time since its 2013 debut.
Honda said the latest recall was over two noise-related defects in the Fit and Vezel hybrids as well as some gasoline-engine Fit and N-WGN models. The automaker will also recall 183 cars overseas for the same glitch. The recall did not involve Fits in the U.S.
The company also said it is reviewing quality processes worldwide, in a sweep that may delay product launches, including that of the HR-V compact crossover to be built at Honda’s new pant in Mexico.
President Takanobu Ito, who will take a 20 percent pay cut for the three-month period, appointed Koichi Fukuo as the company’s newly christened executive in charge of quality reform.
The changes come as Honda grapples with spiraling problems that have bruised its once sterling reputation for quality.
The latest recall of the redesigned Fit, mostly in Japan, have been compounded by millions of recalls of older vehicles to fix faulty airbags.
It piles additional troubles on the Fit hatchback, which had this year’s U.S. launch delayed by a slow startup of production at Honda’s new assembly plant in Celaya, Mexico.
Mexican production of the compact crossover HR-V variant has also been pushed back. Honda won’t launch that vehicle until its quality can be assured, Honda spokeswoman Yuka Abe said. “We are doing very strict check of quality worldwide, and that is why we are taking time to launch models,” she said. “At each plant worldwide, we will do more detailed checks.”
The HR-V is now scheduled to launch this winter and, she said, Honda hasn’t announced whether that constitutes a delay. Suppliers say the launch had been planned for this year.
She said: “The HR-V launches this winter and before it is launched, we want to do strict quality checks.”
Fukuo will also become vice president of Honda R&D Co., the automaker’s semi-independent development arm. That post has been vacant since April. The changes take effect Nov. 1.
“There will be an executive assigned to a position to supervise the entire process, from r&d to market launch,” Honda said in a statement. “This experienced executive will inject his knowledge in a cross-functional manner and thoroughly evaluate technologies at the timing of each evaluation opportunity.”
Fukuo will keep his role at Honda Motor Co. overseeing large vehicle development, including the Acura division, and advanced drivetrain projects such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
Honda said Oct. 23 it is recalling 426,076 Fits and other vehicles worldwide to fix two components, the ignition coil and power control unit, which can malfunction due to electrical interference. In a worse case, the glitches can cause the engine to shut down. Honda said it has no reports of injuries.
The recall affects gasoline and hybrid Fits, as well as hybrid versions of the Fit-based HR-V crossover, which is sold as the Vezel in Japan. It also covers the N-WGN minicar sold in Japan.
Only 251 vehicles are being recalled overseas -- in New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and select Latin American markets. All of the vehicles were made in Japan.
While the recall covers both gasoline and hybrid Fits, it does not cover Fits sold in the United States for two reasons. The hybrid versions are not sold in the United States, and the gasoline version sold there has a 1.5-liter engine, not the 1.3-liter power plant that is being called back.
The action marks and embarrassing fifth fix for the third-generation Fit, which was introduced last year and pioneered a new multi-region product development strategy meant to cut costs and boost r&d efficiencies. The hybrid version also sports the company’s new one-motor, dual-clutch-transmission system.
The earlier recalls -- all to fix problems only with the hybrid version’s drivetrain -- prompted Honda to overhaul its r&d process for all cars worldwide to better intercept problems.
The recalls of a nameplate Ito has positioned as Honda’s “most important model” and a pillar of his ambitious mid-term growth plan comes as the Japanese carmaker battles millions of recalls of older models to address faulty airbags.
The latest Fit’s complexity, including a new platform, transmission and hybrid drivetrain, presented fresh challenges.
The initial problem: Nagging computer glitches that botched shifting of its 7-speed DCT or mishandled torque.
In Japan, from October 2013 to July, Honda had to initiate four recalls of the Fit Hybrid, two of which also covered the HR-V hybrid, which is sold as the Vezel Hybrid in Japan. The latest action, on July 10, affected 175,356 Fit and Vezel hybrids.
The third-generation Fit went on sale in the United States this year, but the hybrid is not sold there. Honda has said it also has no plans to sell the hybrid version of the HR-V Stateside.
Hybrids account for 60 percent of total Fit sales in Japan.
Honda’s recall-induced r&d tweak, revealed last month, inserts a prototype earlier into the research stage to test how independently developed parts work together in a full vehicle. Previously, the Japanese carmaker, known for its bulletproof production process, never actually pulled the components together until after research was done and development underway.
The r&d redo will increase the cost and time of developing cars at Honda, just two years after a sweeping r&d overhaul aimed to speed localization and better tailor cars to local markets. Before, engineers in the research phase created automobile systems in isolated parallel silos. The components were green-lighted independently and then sent to the development phase, where other engineers would install them in a prototype vehicle.
Now, the systems are installed in a prototype vehicle in the research stage to ensure they function seamlessly.
The new Fit racks up a long list of firsts for Honda.
The hybrid version is the first using Honda's new one-motor, dual-clutch gasoline-electric drivetrain. The U.S. version is the first Fit manufactured in North America.
It is also the first vehicle showcasing the Honda brand's new design language. Finally, the Fit is the first car coming out of Ito's global vehicle development strategy.
Honda’s new global r&d approach Honda unveiled in 2012 empowers regional engineers to tailor cars to local tastes and local procurement. Global nameplates, including the Fit, CR-V, Accord and Civic, are being developed in parallel at regional r&d centers in six operational regions.
Internally, the concept is known as Six-Pole Simultaneous Development and divides the world into Japan, North America, China, Asia-Pacific, South America and Europe.
The first three of the Fit recalls addressed problems with the hybrid’s DCT. A software defect could delay gear engagement of gears or immobilize the car. The last recall fixed a software glitch in the engine control unit that regulated torque.
While the U.S. Fit wasn’t been hit by those recalls, Honda called back 6,200 of the cars in the U.S. last month to inspect and replace interior A-pillar covers improperly installed.
In August, Honda said it would modify 12,000 Fits already in U.S. customer hands to retrofit them with an engineering change that improved the car’s showing in a key industry crash test.