(Reuters) - In a surprise move, Honda Motor Co said on Monday that CEO Takanobu Ito would step down in late June after six years in the top post, and will be succeeded by 55-year-old Managing Officer Takahiro Hachigo.
Japan's No.3 automaker has hit a rough patch over the past year with quality problems that have led to multiple recalls of its popular Fit hybrid subcompact.
Ito, 61, became CEO in 2009 as the auto industry was licking its wounds from a crushing global financial crisis. The ensuing years were no easier, as a disappointing launch of the Civic model caused many to question whether Honda had lost its edge. Natural disasters in Japan and Thailand also hit production and profits hard.
For the past three years, Ito has shaken up Honda's decades-old, tightly-knit supply chain as the automaker sought to trim costs and find more cutting-edge technologies.
That has predictably rankled local suppliers, and some retired Honda executives maneuvered to have Ito removed, sources have told Reuters, as pressure mounted from the raft of recalls, which also included several million cars called in over potentially lethal air bag inflators made by Takata Corp.
Ito will remain on the board and become an adviser to Honda.
Hachigo, an engineer who worked on the popular U.S. Odyssey minivan and CR-V crossover, would skip several ranks to become CEO after Honda's annual shareholders' meeting in late June. He joined the company in 1982 with a career spanning several countries including the United States, China and Britain.
Ito and Hachigo are scheduled to hold a news conference in Tokyo at 5 p.m. (3 a.m. EST).