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HTFT: Go beyond impossible

Article - February 14, 2023

When it comes to automobile innovation, HTFT takes a leading role in its comprehensive development of areas such as design, testing, analysis, prototyping, IT system development and intellectual property management.

With over three decades of business experience, Honda Techno Fort has long enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with automobile, motorcycle and power equipment manufacturer Honda.

Key to the firms’ relationship, according to HTFT president and CEO Masahito Kanekuro, is a shared value system based on three vital principles: “going to the actual place,” “knowing the actual situation” and “being realistic.”  Or the so-called “Three Reality Principles.”

While admitting that the shift to remote development had worked at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, Mr. Kanekuro stresses that product verification and communication between different development teams is usually best conducted on site, in line with the three principles. Now, the company partly incorporates remote development so that employees are able to both grow and learn on site and work efficiently at home, in line with the current and future needs of customers.

Indeed, changes to the way the company operates are emblematic of wider societal challenges such as Japan’s birth-rate and workforce issues which affect not just HTFT but the country as a whole.

And nowhere, arguably, are changes taking place at greater speed than in the automobile industry. A typical combustion engine, for example, requires more than 30,000 components for an entire car; the number of parts for the next generation of vehicles, meanwhile, is significantly lower.

Mr. Kanekuro remains unfazed: “We have yearly business meetings with Honda to discuss what vehicles we need to develop in five years and what skills we need to acquire, so that we can meet Honda’s strategic needs in the future.”

Human resources are key to this enterprise and to this end, HTFT has been sending its personnel to Honda for training. Honda has returned the favor, sending staff to HTFT to strengthen the company’s technical knowledge base.

Elsewhere the hierarchical nature of the automotive industry is slowly being broken down, with companies such as Toyota entering into partnerships with companies outside the keiretsu, or “hierarchy”, like electronics giant Panasonic.

While that is not yet a possibility for HTFT, Mr. Kanekuro doesn’t completely rule it out for the future. He is more forthcoming, however, when it comes to the question of how the industry might look in 10 years’ time, pointing out that customer needs and requirements are changing at the same speed as the industry itself.

“In regard to four-wheel development,” he says, “I believe that the industry’s business model will further expand from mainly selling vehicles to providing customers with a variety of services and values that integrate hardware and software.”

With its ability to develop vehicles in all directions, of course, HTFT is uniquely placed to take advantage of such opportunities.

As for the company’s position on the environment, Mr. Kanekuro is clear: “In 2018, we launched an environmental policy to aim for total carbon neutrality so that we might leave an enriched and beautiful Earth to the next generation. With regard to CO2 emissions at Techno Fort, we have already started working towards the 2050 carbon neutrality goals. We have made the switch to LED lights, and installed solar panels on the company building’s rooftop and in the employee parking lot.”

And while Mr. Kanekuro has ruled out collaborations with companies other than Honda for the foreseeable future, Techno Fort remains an ambitious company with an international presence in both the U.S. and Thailand.

With regards to the latter, HTFT has operated a test site, the so-called proving ground, since 2017 and hopes to use its experience and knowledge to develop its presence there.

The North American office, meanwhile, serves a twin function. On the one hand it is there for vehicle development; on the other hand, it functions as a link to the Japan office, with requests from Honda America being transferred to head office.

Mr. Kanekuro adds: “As far as the U.S. business is concerned, we have been mainly working on designing multiple car parts. Not only car parts alone, however. We are also trying to develop multiple parts as a package, so that we can build and maintain our relationship with Honda America.”

Looking to the future, Mr. Kanekuro is keen to strengthen HTFT’s long standing partnership with Honda further still. “In order to be able to do that,” he states, “we need to refine and polish our development capability.”

While committed to incorporating the advantages of remote development, Mr. Kanekuro is quick to emphasize that the concept itself is something of a red herring.

The most important thing, he believes, is not the concept, but the people charged with implementing it in practice.

“What’s vital in terms of development,” he concludes, “is not whether or not we can develop remotely at home, but whether we can support our personnel to develop their abilities and skills to adapt to future roles and needs five or ten years down the line.”