• U.S. sales in 2001 should surpass all-time high of 1.1 million vehicles the previous year
• Displaced Nissan to become Japan's No.2 carmaker
PHOTO BY KOJI SASAHARA/AP/WIDE WORLD
Hiroyuki Yoshino doesn't mind being called a stargazer. As a boy, a favorite pastime was staring at the nighttime skies and dreaming of charting the heavens. Now the president and CEO of Japan's second-largest carmaker, Yoshino, 62, is still marveling at the constellations--and setting sky-high goals. The trained aeronautical engineer wants to boost Honda Motor Co.'s (HMC ) annual sales in Japan to 1 million units, up from the roughly 850,000 cars it sold in 2001.
Honda has gone alone without a strategic partner and has quickly seized beachheads in the hottest and most profitable segments of the auto industry: sport utilities, minivans, and, in Japan, subcompacts. Investors have been rewarded, too. Honda's market capitalization of nearly $39 billion is now bigger than that of troubled Ford Motor (F ), though it trails industry kingpins DaimlerChrysler (DCX ) and Toyota (TM ). Still, that's not bad for a company with annual sales of $54 billion, about one-third those of Ford and DaimlerChrysler.
Honda's success is due in part to its superior manufacturing techniques. Thanks to "smart" robots and shared vehicle parts, Honda factories can swiftly adjust output among different models on the same line to meet shifting demand. They can ratchet up output of the MDX sport utility, for example, if Odyssey minivan sales taper off.
For now, though, Honda can barely keep up with orders for both--despite Yoshino's refusal to offer 0% financing, as Ford and General Motors (GM ) have. In November, sales rose 12% compared with the same period a year earlier--almost double the 7.5% industry average. Yoshino is also well acquainted with the U.S. market, which accounts for two-thirds of Honda's operating profit. He spent four years as president of Honda's U.S. subsidiary in Marysville, Ohio, a decade ago when trade tensions were high, and handled the assignment with aplomb.
But Yoshino's most impressive accomplishment is Honda's stellar performance in Japan, where sales have risen for the past 24 consecutive months amid a domestic auto sales slump. Now, if Yoshino can fix rusty spots such as Europe, his star will shine even brighter.