April 12, 2011 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – After the March 11 disasters, highways were closed and many roads were severed by the impact of the earthquake. But the man who runs Honda Motor Co. needed to get to Honda plants at Tochigi, about 100 kilometers north of Tokyo, as quickly as possible — a 43-year-old male employee died when the wall of a cafeteria crumbled, and 17 other Honda employees were injured at one of the company’s most important sites.
So Takanobu Ito, the top executive at the world’s biggest motorcycle maker by volume, took to his Honda CB1100 “naked” motorbike two days after the quake to get to the Tochigi facilities, a vehicle research center, a manufacturing-technology development subsidiary and a component factory. The CB100 is a company mainstay, the “naked” version carrying no fancy frills.
Even though the location, about 200 kilometers south of Sendai, is relatively far from the seismic source, a seismic intensity of seven was recorded on site when the massive 9.0 quake hit a month ago. Demonstrating the severity of the damage, Honda last Friday allowed reporters to visit a design room at the R&D center that was completely smashed by the quake. Most ceiling panels in the room fell on the floor and electric cables and air-conditioning ducts were hanging from the ceiling. About 1,000 engineers were transferred to its Saitama, Suzuka and Hamamatsu factories as a temporary measure so they can work closely with those in charge of manufacturing operations.
The 57-year-old executive said he first drove a Honda car from Tokyo to his house in Utsunomiya, in the same prefecture as Tochigi, taking back roads with the highway network from the capital closed. The CEO then changed to the still brand-new motorbike he bought last spring to approach the quake-hit area. The pearl white 1100cc-engine CB was able to roll through disrupted roads around the facilities that a car would find it hard to navigate, he said.
“I saw quite a lot of roads closed right after the quake,” Mr. Ito said. “I drove around by my motorcycle from my home, and it worked,” he told reporters at the research center in Hagamachi, Tochigi.
Despite the scale of the damage, and subsequent aftershocks, the site wasn’t completely abandoned. Other staffers were moved to a design space in another building on the same site, filling the location with about 500 engineers — three times the usual capacity.
Thanks to these efforts, the car maker was able to restart R&D operations at the facility earlier than expected – reopening two weeks after the quake hit, Mr. Ito said. “I thought development operations could have been stalled for a few months, though I wanted to avoid that long (of a suspension). I was really encouraged that we could restart just in a few weeks,” he said.
“This is a place where all Honda’s brains are gathered. There is no way to shut this place. We’ll definitely re-establish here,” the CEO said.
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal