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OM in the News: Honda’s Newest Product Flies

May 20, 2015
Mounting the engines over the top of the wings reduces the drag in flight

Mounting the engines over the top of the wings reduces the drag in flight

Honda is finally getting its wings,” writes The Wall Street Journal (May 18, 2015). Some new products, as we discuss in Chapter 5, go from inception to market in months, and some in years.  But for Honda, it involved 3 decades of planning and development to deliver one of its most unusual innovations: an ultrafast business jet that carries its engines above its wings. The $4.5 million 7-seat HondaJet is set for delivery to customers mid-2015. For Michimasa Fujino, the 54-year-old CEO of Honda Aircraft, it is the culmination of a decades long fight to make a Honda aircraft in the face of skeptical executives, technical delays and the global recession. His influence touches every aspect of the design, from its curves to the manufacturing process. “This airplane is my art piece,” he states.

The jet gives Honda—which also makes robots, boat motors, and lawn mowers—entree into a new market. But no modern car company has successfully made the transition to building aircraft. Honda is betting that technological advances will trigger new demand from buyers with its lightweight body made of carbon-fiber composites–providing 17% better fuel efficiency than competitors while having the highest speed in its class: 480 miles per hour.

Fujino’s first decade produced a pair of designs, but the breakthrough came in 1996 when he sketched the basics of the plane’s current design on the back of a wall calendar. Inspired by principles in a 1930s aerodynamics textbook, the design mounted jet engines atop the wings to boost cabin space and cut noise. In 1997, Fujino presented the business case to the board with the sketch in hand, receiving approval for a flying prototype. It would take 3 years of persuasion, using simulations and wind tunnels to prove his point. He and 40 employees started building the prototype in 2000 in a hangar in Greensboro, N.C. The prototype flew successfully in 2003. Today, HondaJet’s workforce has grown to 1,300 at its 133-acre N.C. campus, providing easy access to the U.S. and Europe, 80% of its estimated market.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why did product development take so long?

2. Provide a brief SWOT analysis of the new product.

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