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Honda chief rebuilds management team

Bloomberg

Honda Motor Co. President Takahiro Hachigo is assembling his team of senior executives a year after being named to the position. Nine members of top management are retiring following a series of quality issues.

Seiji Kuraishi, head of Honda’s China business, becomes executive vice president and Hachigo’s No. 2 executive, a company statement said. Kuraishi, 57, replaces Tetsuo Iwamura, who is retiring along with Chairman Fumihiko Ike and seven others.

Hachigo is forming a new lineup of direct reports one year after the nation’s third-largest automaker tapped him to succeed Takanobu Ito amid struggles with unprecedented quality issues. Honda is recalling thousands of 2016 Civic cars, months after introducing the most crucial redesigned model under Hachigo, because manufacturing errors could lead to engine failures. Honda also is the biggest client of Takata, whose air bag inflators are responsible for the industry’s biggest safety recall ever.

“Their quality problem is still going on,” Koji Endo, an analyst with Advanced Research Japan, said by phone before Honda announced the management changes. “It’s not just one person’s responsibility; it’s the responsibility of the whole organization. I don’t know if just switching the top can solve all the problems.”

Yoshiyuki Matsumoto, the chief operating officer for auto operations, will become president of Honda’s research and development unit, replacing Koichi Fukuo, who is retiring.

Honda R&D is significant because all previous chiefs before Hachigo, 56, had run it before becoming CEO.

Since 2008, Honda has issued recalls to replace about 30 million Takata inflators, which can rupture and spray metal and plastic shards at occupants. The inflators have been linked to nine fatalities in Honda models; a 10th incident is being investigated.

Honda detailed the Civic recall in a statement Tuesday from its U.S. unit. It is calling back 42,000 cars with 2-liter engines after learning of an engine fire and another unconfirmed injury report related to poorly assembled engine pistons.

The Civic recall is a setback for a redesigned model that has been winning acclaim, including the North American Car of the Year award, handed out in January by a committee of automotive journalists.

Hachigo rose to president last year after starting his career as an engineer for core models within Honda’s lineup — the Odyssey minivan and CR-V sport utility vehicle. He later worked in executive roles in the U.S., Europe, and China, and is promoting several members of management from the latter market.

Yasuhide Mizuno, head of a joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group, will succeed Kuraishi to lead the China operations. Asako Suzuki, chief of the JV with Dongfeng Motor Corp., will become Honda’s first female operating officer.

The promotions for three top executives in China follow its topping 1 million vehicles sold in the world’s largest market for the first time last year.

Toshiaki Mikoshiba, head of Honda’s Europe operations, will take charge of North America. Katsushi Inoue will be appointed the new Europe chief, shifting from his role as president of Honda’s India unit.