Honda’s newest sales chief is an agent for change

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Dave Gardner, American Honda Motor Co.’s new sales chief, is a corporate insider. He’s worked for Honda, in Canada, for 31 years and most recently ran the Japanese company’s operations there, including sales, manufacturing, parts and Honda’s nonautomotive business ventures.

But he came to his new job in California, starting May 1, as a change agent.

Gardner believes that Honda, generally a conservative company that prizes stability, needs to take more chances, he said in a telephone interview.

“We’ve got to become smaller, we’ve got to become less bureaucratic, we’ve got to become less risk-averse,” Gardner told Automotive News. “I think one of the learnings coming out of the pandemic is we’ve got to become quicker, and leaner, and unafraid to try new things.”

Even before the coronavirus shut down factories and crushed corporate finances, the auto industry was in a state of upheaval. But now, even automaker basics such as working in teams at an office complex and unveiling new models at crowded auto shows are under scrutiny.

Gardner, 60, is taking over as sales boss from Henio Arcangeli Jr., who was an outsider, both to the auto industry and to Honda. Arcangeli, who had worked for Asian manufacturing companies, lasted two and a half years in the Honda sales post. He resigned in February after being told he was being reassigned to a new role.

Gardner said one change that may come to Honda could be a new work environment — even after the coronavirus pandemic has abated and daily life begins to normalize. Asked about the eventual return of workers to their desks in breezy Torrance, Gardner said returning to “normal” might not be in the cards.

“The implication of saying it’s a gradual return is that at some point we may go back to the way it was, and I’m not sure that’s going to be the case,” he said from his office in the sparsely populated headquarters complex.

“I think a big part of the next little while is going to be an assessment of what the new reality of work life is going to look like.”

Gardner also expressed skepticism of auto shows, which Honda has enthusiastically supported even as other automakers pull back.

“One of the things we need to do is take a look at all our investments and expenses. And auto shows are a big one,” he said. “We need to understand why we are there. How is it helping our dealers; what do we hope to accomplish?”

He’s also skeptical of the modern orthodoxy that electric vehicles are the short-term solution to reducing emissions. Honda has bucked the trend generally, although it is working with General Motors on future EVs.

“Our focus and our goal is to reduce CO2 emissions, not sell electric vehicles,” he said, adding that Honda will move toward hybrids now and zero-emissions vehicles later. “Somewhere along the way, the lowering CO2 emissions objective has been lost, and in its place a new one has come up, which is, ‘How many electric vehicles can we sell?’ “

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Saurabh Shukla

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