In a year when the U.S. auto market has been knocked out cold by the one-two punch of spiking fuel prices and the financial meltdown, it's not easy finding a hero in the car business. Now that the tide of easy credit and cheap gasoline has gone out, we see that a lot of car companies have been swimming naked. But not Honda. Honda's steadfast refusal to follow the herd once looked stubborn but now appears prescient. In an era when platinum-paid executives rarely deviate from the orthodoxy of the crowd, Honda's Takeo Fukui has successfully avoided faddish trends and instead stayed true to the founding principles of Soichiro Honda and his successors. For that, Honda president and CEO Takeo Fukui is the 2009 AUTOMOBILE MAGAZINE Man of the Year.
Fukui's long path to the presidency at Honda has seen him move through many of the arenas that are so key to the company's DNA: R&D, motorsports, and manufacturing. An engineer by trade-funny how so many of the best auto executives are-Fukui joined Honda in 1969 and started work on the project that would lead to the Honda CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) engine, a unique approach to meeting emissions regulations and an early indicator of the nascent automaker's engineering prowess and commitment to the environment.
Honda often goes its own way, whether it's being the first Japanese auto manufacturer to set up a U.S. assembly plant (a move many others followed), avoiding the merger mania that swept the industry (most of which have since been undone), or refusing to follow the herd with its model mix.
Honda kept to the sidelines when Nissan and Toyota went scurrying after the U.S. automakers in the full-size pickup, and attendant big SUV, markets-both of which are now in a free fall. Resources not spent developing trucks have been directed instead to cars, such as the Accord, enabling Honda to keep them at the top of their game.