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商业 - 汽车

本田为何“很受伤”

Alex Taylor III 2011年08月09日

本田创造了一长串的科技成就,养成了一种创意为王的温室文化,将注意力集中在公司内部,产品的适销性反而没有得到足够的关注。

像所有前任一样,本田现任社长伊东孝绅也是从大名鼎鼎的本田研发部门中升上来的“技术流”。

    多年以来,本田公司(Honda)一直被人们奉作工程师的终极舞台。这些工程师们骑着本田摩托去上班,开发的是像喷气式飞机和人型机器人这种令人叹为观止的项目。本田创造了一长串的科技成就,比如说它在70年代就研发出了CVCC发动机(它不需要催化转换器就可以产生清洁的汽车尾气)。因此本田的工程师们对前辈的遗产深感与有荣焉,同时也非常享受自己在公司里的精英地位。

    久而久之,本田养成了一种创意为王的温室文化,将注意力集中在公司内部,产品的适销性反而没有得到足够的关注。事实上,最早研发出混合动力轿车的是本田,而不是丰田(Toyota)。但本田还是顽固地坚持老式的动力系统,因此本田老早以前就在与丰田的竞争中落于下风。比如本田推出了一款革命性的Ridgeline皮卡,它采取了一体式车身,但它的销售却十分惨淡。而且本田最近推出的创新产品,比如本田歌诗图(Crosstour)和讴歌ZDX掀背车,都是甫一上市就饱受诟病,也没能形成市场吸引力。

    最近还有一个事例证明本田对消费者的需求并不敏感,那就是2012款本田思域(Civic)。本田并没有注意到,消费者越来越喜欢更加舒适的小型车,反而是生产了一款配置更加简单的轿车。2012款思域最终未能获得《消费者报告》(Consumer Reports)杂志的推荐。要知道,这本杂志可是很多本田车迷的《圣经》。思域的成功对于本田来说至关重要,因为在2011年上半年,思域和雅阁(Accord)两款轿车占了本田乘用车销量的83%。

    今年三月的日本地震和海啸使本田的运营受到了严重的影响。本田一直在努力自救,但财务业绩仍然遭到了沉重的打击。本田今年一季度的营收入下跌了27%,营业利润几乎消失殆尽。

    本田陷入了危机,本田的两个主要对手却在繁荣发展。丰田章男(丰田创始人丰田喜一郎的孙子——译注)继任总裁之后,为丰田注入了一股新的能量。同时一向精力充渍的卡洛斯•高森也已将日产公司(Nissan)打造成了电动汽车领域的龙头企业。

    这大概也说明了本田的另一个问题:如果你随便在汽车业里拉过100个人,问他们本田的总裁和CEO是谁,99个人都会干瞪眼。

    自从魅力超凡的前社长川本信彦1998年退休后,先后执掌公司的都是个性不强的工程师。现任本田社长伊东孝绅也像他的前任们一样,是从本田大名鼎鼎的研发部门中升上来的“技术流”。伊东孝绅这个月末就将迎来58岁生日,他本人是一位知名的底盘工程师,研发了讴歌NSX等车型的底盘。他最近上演了一出惊人之举:日本地震刚刚过了两天,伊东就骑着他的本田摩托车,访问了严重受损的本田枥木(Tochigi)工厂。后来他跨坐在摩托车上,让摄影记者给他拍照。只不过他那天西装革履,未免和那辆拉风的摩托有些不搭调。

    伊东孝绅时不时也会在各种汽车媒体上露面,有时谈谈电动汽车的前途(本田将在2012年推出一款电动汽车),有时说说讴歌NSX轿车的复兴(他正在考虑这件事)。不过人们恐怕极少听他谈起过本田在产品研发上的失败,或者本田为何没能抓住消费者越来越喜欢小型车这一势头,或者讴歌品牌为什么一直没能形成市场吸引力等话题。

    本田现在需要的是一股新的能量,还需要把重点放在核心价值上——对于本田来说,就是“人最大,车最小”。本田将负责研制喷气式飞机的航空事业部分离了出去,这是明智之举,因为这可以杜绝高管层注意力分散的弊病。(本田的航空事业部至少还得再过一年,才能在市场上推出它的第一架飞机)。

    除此之外,本田还需要进行严肃的反省。垒球队会在自由球员交易时期引进几名球员,填补球队阵营中的短板 。同样,本田也应该给自己的产品线查缺补漏。这意味着本田可能要做一些在自己看来难以想象的事——聘用外部人才,用新视角来观察市场和消费者。现在通用汽车和福特等大品牌纷纷推出了有竞争性的新产品,连韩国现代(Hyundai)也加入战团,丰田更是卯足了力气准备推出新产品。所以本田也不要再玩机器人了,还是立足本分,把注意力放在汽车业务上吧。

    译者:朴成奎

    For years, Honda has been considered the ultimate playground of engineers. They rode to work on their Honda motorcycles and got to explore speculative projects like jet airplanes and humanoid robots. With a long list of technical achievements dating back to the CVCC engine of the 1970s (it produced a clean exhaust without a catalytic converter), they were rightly proud of their heritage and enjoyed an elite status within the company.

    The result has been a hothouse culture where creativity is king, attention focuses inward, and marketability falls low down the list of corporate priorities. It was Honda that developed the first hybrid -- not Toyota -- but by stubbornly sticking to a bare-bones system, it long ago lost its leadership to its number one Japanese rival. A revolutionary pickup truck with a unibody construction, the Ridgeline, remains a market outlier. Meanwhile, recent product innovations, like the Honda Crosstour and Acura ZDX hatchbacks, were widely panned upon introduction and failed to gain traction in the marketplace.

    The most recent evidence of Honda's insensitivity to customer needs is the 2012 Civic. Rather than taking note of growing buyer preferences for more comfortable small cars, it produced a simpler vehicle that failed to win a recommendation from Consumer Reports, a bible for many Honda customers. The Civic's success is critical to Honda because, along with Accord, it accounted for a hefty 83% of Honda's passenger car sales in the first half of 2011.

    It didn't help when Honda's operations were severely disrupted by the earthquake and tsunami in March. The automaker has struggled to right itself, and its financial results have taken a severe hit. Revenues fell 27% in the first quarter, and its operating profit nearly disappeared.

    Honda is suffering at the very moment when its two main Japanese rivals are thriving. Toyota is getting a jolt of energy from Akio Toyoda, scion of the founding family, while the ever-energetic Carlos Ghosn has made Nissan the leader in electric cars.

    Which perhaps illustrates another part of Honda's problem: Ask 100 people in the auto industry who is the president and CEO of Honda, and the response from 99 of them will be a blank stare.

    Since the retirement of the charismatic Nobuhiko Kawamoto in 1998, Honda has been led by a succession of relatively faceless engineers. The latest is Takanobu Ito, who, like all his predecessors, worked his way up through Honda's famed R&D unit. Ito, who turns 58 later this month, is best known as a chassis engineer on cars like the Acura NSX. He recently caused a stir by hopping on his Honda motorcycle and visiting Honda's heavily damaged Tochigi operation two days after the earthquake. Later, he posed for photographers atop his bike, improbably clad in a suit and tie.

    Ito turns up in the automotive press from time to time, where he is quoted on such topics as the future of electric cars (Honda will have one in 2012) or the revival of the NSX (he's considering it). Rarely though is he heard musing about Honda's failures in product development, or its inability to cash in on the growing allure of small cars, or the continued failure of its Acura brand to gain traction.

    What Honda needs, in part, is what every company needs from time to time: a jolt of new energy and a rededication to core values -- in Honda's case, "man maximum, machine minimum." A spinoff of the Hondajet operation, which won't deliver its first plane into a now-depressed market until a year from now, would eliminate executive distraction.

    More than that, Honda needs to take a hard look at itself and, like a baseball team at free agent time, fill in the parts of its lineup where it is weak. That may include doing the unthinkable for Honda: recruiting some talented outsiders to take a fresh look at the market and its customers. With competitive new offerings from General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) and Ford (F, Fortune 500), Hyundai now in the mix, and Toyota about to unleash a product onslaught, Honda needs to stop playing with robots and refocus on the car business.

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