10 Things You May Not Know About Honda
Published August 14, 2016
Honda’s corporate headquarters are located in Aoyama in central Tokyo, Japan. That’s where I find myself on a frosty March morning after visiting the Honda Performance Manufacturing Center 48 hours ago. For your information, the latest NSX is at the moment being built at the Honda Manufacturing Center which is why I felt honored visiting the corporate headquarters of one of the best car manufacturers thousands of miles away from home. I was looking forward to hear the real story from the people behind the phenomenal success of the “H badge” and had a reliable contact waiting thanks to one “Sushi”, a real friendly guy. Mr. Sushi, or in the local lingo Sushi-san, had actually done me a big one, setting up a meeting with the one and only Ben Nakamura, a long time veteran in Honda’s PR department.
Nakamura is the go-to man for all Honda matters. He’s been with the company for long both at home and in the US. He’s the man who’s handled the company’s PR for almost every major Honda project in the recent times, from its Formula 1 PR team to regaining consumer trust after the Takata airbag catastrophe. Today he’s facing another tough challenge of dealing with my curious mind.
I meet Nakamura in his plush office where I’m served coffee in those tiny exotic cups and I am getting plenty of insights about the company. Nakamura is practically a living Honda encyclopedia. Much of what he says is news, even to an avid Honda like me. For a start, I didn’t know the infamous Suzuka Circuit was designed by Honda way back in 1962. Are you aware the first car Honda sold to the public was a T360 truck? Not even a car.
For a few hours, he talked about almost everything auto from America’s endless demand for attractive designs and more power in their cars to how alternative fuel options have evolved in recent times. As the interview came to an end I’m left more overwhelmed than I was when I stepped into Nakamura’s office. I was really humbled by the man’s knowledge and deep insight about a company that has stood the test of time in the auto industry. It is hard to let it all sink in at once, but for your benefit, here are 10 things you most probably didn’t know about Honda.
10. It all began with motorcycles
The Honda story goes back in October 1946 in Hamamatsu, Japan where Soichiro Honda founded the Honda Technical Research Institute. The institute’s goal was to develop and manufacture 2-cycle motorcycle engines. The company as we know it now, Honda Motor Company Ltd, was established two years later in 1948. By 1959 Honda had expended to the US where it set up a small shop in Los Angeles, complete with a staff of six and three of their best motorbikes, and a big dream. Fifty years later the company’s motorbikes, from the little 50cc Super Cub to high-speed models such as the CBR, could be found roaming the streets in almost every state, .
What you probably didn’t know was that the first Honda cars were actually powered by 2-cylinder motorcycle engines. Honda made good use of what was readily available back then. In any case, the motors were quite reliable and didn’t weigh much, fitting an air-cooled motorbike engine in the car was not rocket science. Well, the motors barely gave more than 36 horsepower, but this wasn’t a major challenge given the cars powered by these small motors were smaller than your typical MINI.
9. Honda is into futuristic designs and robotics
One of the most memorable privileges Nakamura allowed me as soon as I arrived in Aoyama was to have a seat and a first-hand feel of the UNI-CUB. For those of you who’ve never heard of a UNI-CUB, it is a futuristic unicycle that runs on electric power. It features one large wheel placed at the center and a series of wheels placed perpendicular inside the large wheel giving the contraption an ability to make 360 degree turns at a standstill. It is a perfect example of Honda’s dedication to personal mobility. When you cruise in a UNI-CUB you somehow feel like you are steering the machine with your thoughts, like the machine feels your intention and direction you wish to go.
Honda’s “Walking Assist Device” was another device of interest that really caught my attention. It is a device that uses a person’s movements to help someone with mobility problems to walk again. It is quite easy to use, lightweight, and slim. It is a useful device that helps people unable to walk regain their mobility again. The Walking Assist Device even features Bluetooth connectivity that doctors can use to track a patient’s healing progress and any risk that the patient may potentially come across.
8. Honda has a jet program
Clement D’Souza is NXS’s chief engineer at the Honda Performance Manufacturing Center. When I met him, he told me an interesting story that I still remember to date. He told me that after he had designed the 2012 CRV, the company top brass approached him with two propositions, to manage the team developing the new HondaJet project or to lead the team engineering the NSX supercar. Obviously he chose the latter, but still wonders what his life would have been like if he had taken the first option.
The HondaJet project did really take off. It received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, proving that the plane project is doing quite well. As Honda puts it, the plane has a unique “over-the-wing engine mount” configuration which will make it the fastest, quietest, highest-flying and most fuel efficient jet so far. Honda Aircraft, (yes, there is more than an aviation department at Honda) claims to have 25 aircrafts currently on the final assembly line located in the company’s headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. Honda has even hinted that there are still more planes to come out of that plant.
7. Honda has been using turbos since the early 80s
Every supercar enthusiast has probably heard of the big news about the new NSX having a twin-turbo hybrid engine or that the 10th gen Civic is actually the first Honda with turbo. What you may not have heard is that Honda has been using turbos from as far back as the early 1980s when it launched the City II Turbo. Honda has in fact been releasing a number of turbo cars such as the Vamos van and the Life Dunk. You may never have heard of them because they were made exclusively for the Japanese market. There was only one turbo Honda on our soil before the new Civic was launched, the first generation Acura RDX which came to the US about a decade ago.
The RDX is a sporty and stiff car loved by soccer moms as a better alternative to the too common and bland rivals. The major downside of the RDX was its fuel guzzling K23 engine that came with premium fuel requirements and a 2 ton foot print, making it a rather expensive daily drive. After a few years of slow sales, Honda switched the RDX original engine with a V6.
6. Honda was already selling hybrids in the US long before the competition showed up
You probably assume Toyota’s Prius, one of the best selling hybrids, was the first hybrid car in the US. Wrong. Honda beat Toyota by a year prior to the 1999 release of the Prius. The Honda hybrid however didn’t have a major success like the Prius had because being the first generation RDX, it had an undersized engine, funky rear wheel covers which were found unappealing to most, and a super small CRX size.
It is also worth knowing that Honda was the first to sell hydrogen-powered cars in America: the FCX Clarity launched in 2008. Honda was also the first car maker from Japan to establish an auto manufacturing plant in US with the launch of its plant in Marysville, Ohio way back in 1982.
5. Racing was once again prioritized over production of vehicles
The founder of Honda once said the pressures of racing challenges people and makes them seek for innovative solutions and quick responses to problems they had never encountered before. He was indeed on point with that one. In a period of more than 50 years, racing has been a major preoccupation with Honda. The company has utilized the racing platform for many years to create faster, lighter, stronger, and more durable cars.
In its humble beginnings, the RA270 F1 car was a major priority for the company. Mr. Honda always insisted that racing promotes teamwork and often insisted to his employees the fact that a single person can never bring success. This emphasis on teamwork became an important trait in the company’s corporate culture. Teamwork and excellent performance of Honda racing is quite evident in the type of cars and engines the team uses at IndyCar.
4. Honda is the best-selling vehicle of all time
You may have never known it but that little scooter you call the Cub has been built, replicated and sold more times than the Ford Model T, the Toyota Corolla, and the VW Beetle combined. The Honda Cub was released in 1958 and by 2008 has sold over 60 million units. Production of the Cub still goes on to date, although most are sold in countries where affordable small scooters are still trendy. Honda sells close to 5 million Cubs each year. Notably, the original design of the small scooter remains unchanged to this day.
3. Honda is still the largest producer of motorbikes
Unlike many car companies, Honda didn’t start with vehicles. Soichiro, the founder, began as a bicycle builder back in 1946. It was around the same time when he chanced upon several 50cc engines meant to be used as portable radio generators in the Second World War. His idea of attaching the generators to a bicycle gave rise to Honda. You can even see a fine example of these original machines displayed in the lobby of the company’s headquarters in Tokyo. Soichiro went further to develop the Model A which used a real engine made by the company. By 1964, Honda was the world’s largest manufacturer of motorbikes, a title that the company has refused to relinquish up to date.
2. A rock band was even named after Honda
In the 1960s, Honda motorcycles were all the rage in US and Europe. The bikes were so hugely popular that four rock enthusiasts from Los Angeles, California came together to form a rock band known as The Hondells, in tribute to the Japanese brand. Their first single was called Little Honda and was actually inspired by the huge popularity of Honda motorcycles. Little Honda reached the number 9 position on the US pop singles chart. The song was written by Beach Boys’ Mike Love and Brian Wilson.
1.Going beyond transportation
One great thing about Honda is the way the company has ventured in other industries beyond motorcycles and cars. Honda manufactures an array of garden equipment, marine crafts, power generators, and solar cells. Honda solar cells are manufactured by a subsidiary of the company known as Honda Soltec. The name Honda is found on many types of power equipment including riding lawn mowers, snow blowers, sprayers, hedge trimmers, water pumps, and generators.
Honda even designs and manufactures the robots that you see in its assembly lines. It is a company that never stays in one sector but always diversifying into other innovative fields. Honda has even ventured into aerospace with its GE Honda Aero Engines. The company recently made changes in its corporate structure and has gone beyond its borders through joint ventures with China such as Honda China, Guangqi Honda, and Dongfeng Honda. In time, we expect to see a lot more from Honda in other fields besides motorcycle and auto industries.