1946-1950 – A moment of inspiration
Like many of the names that have made automotive history, Saichiro Honda inherits a passion for machines from his father. He gets his first job at a bicycle repair shop. One day, by chance, he visits a friend and finds a small motor on the table. This vision quickly becomes an inspiration: the transportation problems of the poorest population could be solved by applying one of those engines to their bikes: creating “automatic bicycles.”
Said and done. Soon after, Saichiro shows his prototype, a bicycle with a motor and fuel tanks mounted in a small house on which a sign that reads “Honda Technical Research Institute” hangs. A year later (1947), he sees the light of the first Honda product, the A-Type, the first bicycle with his motor. On September 24, 1948, Saichiro became the president of a new company named Honda Motor Co. At that time, he had a capital valued at one million yen and 34 employees. His work did not bear fruit until August 1949, with the launch of the first Honda motorcycle, the D-Type “Dream.”
The company has as its name and logo the surname of its founder. His catchphrase, “The Power of Dreams,” perfectly reflects his corporate culture: chasing dreams and making them come true. This is the direction that Honda has taken from its founding and whose ultimate goal is to create new values for its customers.
1951-1960 – Jump to America
In the 1950s, Honda listened to social needs and embarked on the construction of a four-stroke motorcycle. Although it is not a new bet -the competition already manufactures mechanics of this type-, the incorporation of the valve overload system and the increase in displacement to 150 cc place the brand in the lead. The first Honda four-stroke motorcycle to hit the market is the E-Type, designed and field-tested by Kiyoshi Kawashima.
In the middle of the decade, and has become one of Japan’s most valued motorcycle manufacturers, Honda considered opening its borders. Their market studies affirm that Southeast Asia is a promising area, but that further afield, it is cars that triumph in America. Kawashima’s advice is not well received by Honda’s top executives, who argue that “a product that does not become a success in America will never be an international success.” With this idea in mind, American Motor Honda was born in 1959. By choice of Kawashima, the headquarters are located in Los Angeles.
1961-1970 – Four-wheel sling
In the mid-1950s, the Japanese market opens up to four-wheelers. However, those responsible for Honda are reluctant to change: Soichiro Honda did not authorize the “jump” until the end of the decade.
After two prototypes of cars and another two of mini trucks, the brand faces a challenging obstacle: the MITI Law, a regulation approved by the Japanese government that regulates the manufacture of automobiles according to three levels (passenger cars, unique products – such as luxury models and sports- and trucks). The problem is that, due to the requirements, Honda cannot be part of any of them.
Once this problem was overcome, in 1962 -on the 11th Honda Meeting and the inauguration of the Suzuka circuit- the Honda S360 prototype was presented, a small red four-cylinder in-line sports car, cooled by water and equipped with the engine baptized as “XA 250”. A few months later, at the IX International Motor Show in Japan, the manufacturer surprises those present with two sports cars, S360 and S500, and a minivan called T360. What is exhibited in this show is just the Prelude to a flood of models that make the sixties one of Honda’s most prolific: the S500 is followed by a second sports car named the S600 (1964); the S600 and SM coupe (1965); the S800 (1966); the utility N360 and the N600 (1968); and the N400 (1969).
Additionally, the Japanese firm founds its division in the Old Continent, under European Honda GmbH. In addition, in this same decade, it opens offices in Belgium, Paris, and London.
1971-1980 – The first generation of the Civic
The 70s do not start on the right foot. Production and sales successes suffer a halt, mainly due to the poor performance of the H1300. Now is the time to go one step further and create a radically new model. Until that date, all the projects were based on Mr. Honda’s ideas, but he has two independent teams: both will work on the same concept, although competing with each other. The surprise arises when the two results are presented; they are almost identical: a light, fast and compact car (the opposite of the Honda H1300).
The model is called “Civic,” a vehicle for citizens and cities.
Equipped with a 1,200 cc engine, the original Civic contemplates a weight of fewer than 600 kilos in order not to increase consumption and the final price. This first challenge is unattainable, and after many weeks of work, they manage to lighten it to 680 kilos. The second concerns the suspension: until then, all models used a rigid system that forced the right and left wheel to be mounted on the same axle. Honda, however, is betting on an independent suspension.
After two years of hard work, the Civic hits the market: the two-door version was presented in July 1972, and the three-door version in September.
The new model has an excellent reception among the younger public and was also elected “Car of the Year in Japan” in Canada during 1972, 1973, and 1974. It was the best-selling vehicle for two years, and in 1973 it was praised by the public and critics in the United States for its environmentally friendly mechanics.
In 1976, when Civic sales surpassed one million units, the Accord arrived. Considered the high-end brother of the Civic, it was initially marketed with a three-door body. Its acceptance is such that, in just three months, Honda doubles its sales forecasts (from 4,000 to 8,000 units). A year later, the four-door version appeared, and, finally, in 1978, a more powerful 1,800 cc mechanic was added.
1981-1990 – A decade full of successes
The good sales results achieved by the Accord culminated in the early 1980s with the production of the one-millionth unit. It is only the preamble to a decade full of successes for Honda, both in the development and commercialization of road cars and in the field of competition.
The supply of vehicles grows dramatically. First to arrive are the CVCC II powered versions of the Accord and Prelude, Honda’s answer to harsh environmental regulations imposed by the Japanese government. They are followed by the second generation of the Civic – which includes a sedan version for the first time- the renewed Accord range and the new Quintet.
Just three years later, in 1983, the Civic III arrived. This year also marks the return, after 15 years of absence, of Honda to Formula 1: the following year begins a wave of victories that continues throughout the decade. These successes are not limited to the circuits: they are also present in rallies such as the Paris-Dakar, where the Japanese brand achieved the top five places in 1986.
A year earlier, the Legend was presented. Meanwhile, the Honda Civic continued its evolution, and in 1987 it debuted its fourth generation. The Prelude does the same with the third and becomes the first car with four steering wheels. At the end of the ’80s, the Accord IV arrives. All these novelties mean that the brand has produced 1988 more than 15 million units.
On the other hand, the Japanese manufacturer continues its expansion throughout Europe: among the new headquarters, Honda Automobiles Spain (1988), based in Barcelona, stands out. However, it is not his first experience in the national territory since he has manufactured motorcycles for two years.
1991-2000 – State of the art
With the sad shadow of the death in 1991 of its creator, Soichiro Honda, the firm celebrates its fiftieth birthday this decade. The year 1990 when the Legend becomes the only vehicle globally that incorporates seat belts with pre-tensioners and airbags in both seats. It is the first of the technological milestones that the Japanese brand will launch during the last decade of the century.
The “Solar Dream” enables the manufacturer to achieve victory in the “World Solar Challenge” (1993), a competition in which solar-powered vehicles from all over the world participate. He repeated this feat in 1996, the same year that he launched the development of an electric car that, in the first instance, he baptized as the Honda EV, and which presented its first humanoid robot.
A year later, it announced the ZLEV (Zero Level Emission Vehicle) technology presentation and launched two improved versions of its robot, the P2, and the P3. Already in 1999, he surprised at the Frankfurt Motor Show with the Honda Insight, a model equipped with a hybrid engine.
These technological advances do not interrupt the creation of models: in this decade, the new versions of the Accord, Legend, Prelude, and Civic come to light. Also featured are the Accord Coupé, NSX sports car, CR-V 4WD, Logo, and HR-V.
In addition, the Civic Aero Deck, the first Honda manufactured in Europe, is on sale.
2001-2009 – Pioneers in ecology and safety
The new millennium begins with introducing the first mannequin that reflects collision trauma: safety and respect for the environment mark Honda’s new work philosophy. In 2001, the Civic – which this decade reaches its eighth generation – obtained three stars for pedestrian safety and four for front and side safety, the most achieved by a car so far.
In 2002, the brand launched the first curtain airbags on the market. The Japanese manufacturer has achieved numerous awards for its work to preserve the environment. For example, the Insight and S2000 win the 2001 “Engine of the year” award in their respective categories. Award renewed the following year by the Civic IMA. The hybrid version of the compact became the car that consumes the least and most respects the environment in 2006, as attested by its “World Green Car 2006” award.
A year later, Honda is named the “Greenest Manufacturer,” a distinction awarded by the Union of Scientists for being the brand that produces the minor gases and polluting emissions. This chapter closes with new additions to the Honda range: C-MPV Stream (2000), Integra Type R (2001), Jazz (2002), FR-V (2004), Civic Type R and Type S sports cars (2007), and the new generation of the hybrid Insight (2009).