Honda's road to becoming an automaker
Honda's road to becoming an automaker
Posted on March 9, 2016
Honda's Road to Becoming an Automaker
When you think of quality, affordable, and stylish vehicles which country comes to mind first? If it wasn’t Japan, well, the answer we were looking for was… Japan.
Why is this the case? What is it about the production process that has earned Japanese automakers such a great reputation for offering drivers quality vehicles with other manufacturers only catching on years and years later? Well, perhaps we can point to a higher commitment to quality control, to development, to design and implementation and testing – or, maybe it falls on the leaders that founded companies like Honda.
Honda was founded by Soichiro Honda – who was born in on November 17th, 1906 in Tenryu, Shizuoka Prefecture. The village was situated near Hamamatsu, not far from iconic Mount Fuji. Now, in those days Japan was not as well-regarded for their technological impact on a world scale – but there were hints of a change in the air.
Honda spent much of his childhood working with his father, Gihei Honda, who was a blacksmith and operated a bicycle repair business. His mother, Mika, was a weaver. Even at an early age Honda was not interested in the traditional education model and in those days the grades issued by the schools to children required a family seal applied from the student’s parent as to ensure the parents had seen the results.
Clever in his youth as he would prove to be to the end of his life, Honda forged a family seal from a rubber bicycle pedal cover. It wasn’t long before other children in his class approached him to create forgeries for their own use. Fortunate for Honda, but not for many of his ‘customers’, stamping creates a mirror-image of what it is meant to produce – his name, 本田, had no such problem as both characters look nearly identical when the seal is applied. This was not the case for his classmates, however, and he was quickly discovered and punished.
Honda’s life is one that seems to follow that of an industrialising Japan – and by age 15, without formal education, he left for Tokyo to look for work, becoming an apprentice at a garage shortly after, and returning home to start an auto repair business at the age of just 22.
A few years before he would found
Honda Motor Co., Ltd., Honda entered what is historically recognized as the 1st Japanese automobile race at the Tamagawa Speedway in 1936 – just 30 years old at the time and already quite well-regarded, he lost control of the Turbocharged Ford he was driving and crashed. This was the last time he would race.
In 1937, Honda founded Tokai Seiki that created parts for Toyota – but, after various complications from the Second World War and industry strife, he sold the remaining assets of the company and founded Honda Technical Research Institute in 1946.
They began with motorized bicycles in 1948, called the Type A, and would be sold in a mass-production cycle until 1951. During this period, however, the company went on to make newer and more optimized models, leading to the Type D in 1949 which was a true motorcycle – leading to further tinkering until it began the Dream series of the first generation of Honda’s motorcycle division.
It wasn’t long after this that the company earned international recognition for the quality of Honda motorcycles – in addition to that, the company’s growth put it among the most successful businesses of the era – surpassing the billion-dollar point before the beginning of the 1960s.
The first automobile produced entirely by Honda was the T360 mini pick-up truck in 1963. It, along with the S500 sports car, would go on to earn the company a place on the global auto market.
Culturally, it is interesting to note that Honda along with Takeo Fujisawa, a man who Honda had known years earlier and had brought on in to oversee the financial side of the company and expansion efforts, had made a pact to not force their children to join the company if they did not desire it. This bold move was and is still somewhat unexpected and, in part, unheard of – potentially leading to the Honda family to be excluded from the Honda Company.
That said, their children went on to be successful regardless – with Hirotoshi Honda founding Mugen Motorsports, which both tuned and develops their own racing vehicles.
In 1980, People Magazine called Honda “the Japanese Henry Ford”, and, prior to his death, had earned many of the most illustrious awards available to people in Japan and innovators around the world.