Business / Corporate

New Honda chief discusses air bags, Asimo

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Although the root cause of Takata Corp.’s deadly air bag malfunctions remains unclear, Honda’s new president on Thursday tried to reassure drivers and passengers that recalled vehicles are rendered safe with replacement inflators.

“Takata told us that the new inflator is safe, and we think it’s safe, too,” Honda Motor Co. President Takahiro Hachigo told a group of reporters. He was appointed to the position last month.

Millions of cars with Takata air bags have been recalled worldwide because of defects with inflators that could make them explode with too much force and fire shrapnel into the vehicle.

While investigations by Takata and third parties are ongoing, automakers have themselves been jointly looking into the causes. Hachigo said he does not know how long it will take to pinpoint the problem.

Furthermore, Hachigo did not explain clearly why new inflators are considered safe when the root cause of the problem remains unknown.

Takata and the carmakers believe it may involve age-related deterioration, but recalls have also included recent models.

In December, the automaker recalled 12-year-old Fit vehicles, but on Thursday additionally included Fits manufactured just four years ago.

Hachigo said it is essential to recall cars with faulty air bags as soon as possible while research into the cause continues.

Meanwhile, the new president was asked about Honda’s robotics interests, a departure from its core businesses of cars and motorcycles.

Its best known robot product is the humanoid Asimo, which now faces a strong rival, SoftBank’s recently released Pepper.

Asked whether Honda feels that SoftBank has overtaken the company in the robotics field, Hachigo said Pepper and Asimo are quite different.

While Asimo can walk, run and jump with its two feet, Pepper is more of an entertainment device, which SoftBank says can read people’s emotions. Pepper lacks feet but has small tires.

“As for humanoid robots, we’d like to focus on the point that the robots can walk. We have now started studying how that feature can be used at places not accessible to humans, such as at construction sites and nuclear power plants,” he said.

“We don’t feel that (SoftBank) has beaten us.”