Honda Motor Co., currently at the center of an airbag defect scandal, said today its president Takanobu Ito will step aside and be replaced by another Honda executive, Takahiro Hachigo. Ito will remain on the board as an adviser. The announcement did not mention the problems with the airbags and came amid a slew of other managerial changes. The Japanese automaker's unexpected decision follows massive recalls of Honda vehicles equipped with airbags made by Japan's Takata Corp. The airbags have inflators that can explode, expelling shards of metal and plastic. At least five deaths and dozens of injuries have been linked to the problem worldwide.
All the new appointments are subject to board approval at the company's annual shareholders meeting in June. Hachigo handled development of the US-built Odyssey minivan and has guided the automaker's businesses in the US, Europe, and China during his 33-year career with Honda, the company said. Ito joined Honda in 1978 as a chassis design engineer and has been president and CEO since 2009. US and Japanese authorities have been investigating the Takata airbags; they are used by many automakers but Honda was the worst affected. The US fined Honda $70 million, which was the largest civil penalty levied against an automaker, for failing to report to US regulators some 1,729 complaints that its vehicles caused deaths and injuries, and for not reporting warranty claims.