TOKYO -- Japan's automakers have long been confident of their ability to build with bulletproof reliability and durability.
But something is changing in the industry.
In the new era of advanced intelligent safety systems and cars that drive themselves, manufacturing will rely increasingly on software prowess. And that is a realm where Japan's automakers realize they have catching up to do.
Not only are the companies reaching deeper into software r&d, they are attempting to create the same silicon-friendly work environments that now flourish in the United States.
This changing mindset was evident last week, when Honda Motor Co. opened the doors of the new Honda R&D Innovation Lab Tokyo for an outside peek.
On an airy 27th floor loft in a gleaming downtown skyscraper, Honda is attempting to capture the free-wheeling, innovative atmosphere of Silicon Valley.
"In the past, most of Honda's knowledge DNA was about mechanical engineering and human-centered design," said Edward Feigenbaum, 81, a renowned Stanford University artificial intelligence expert who was brought in by Honda as an adviser. "Most of this knowledge was about atoms, not bits.
"Current r&d leadership saw the need to move beyond the mechanical engineering of the past toward a digital future dominated by software, not mechanism," he said.