November 17, 2006

Today In Automotive History

1906 : Honda founder born in Hamamatsu, Japan

On this day, Honda Motor Company founder Soichiro Honda was born the son of a blacksmith in Hamamatsu, Japan, about 150 miles southwest of Tokyo. Honda, who displayed remarkable mechanical intuition even at a young age, began working in an auto repair shop in Tokyo at age 15. In 1928, Honda returned to Hamamatsu to set up another branch of the repair shop, and also began pursuing his youthful passion for motor car racing. In 1936, Honda won his first racing trophy at the All-Japan Speed Rally, but nearly died when his car crashed shortly after setting a speed record. After a prolonged recovery, Honda left racing, and during World War II constructed airplane propellers for his country. When the war was over, Japan's industry was in shambles, and Honda saw an opportunity to beat swords into plowshares by starting an automotive company of his own. He bought a surplus of small generator engines from the military at a bargain price and began attaching them to bicycle frames. Honda's fuel-efficient vehicles were popular in a time when fuel was scarce, and in September of 1948, with only $1,500, Honda formed the Honda Motor Company in Hamamatsu. The company began building a full line of powerful and well-made motorcycles that by 1955 led motorcycle production in Japan. Honda proved as effective a company manager as he was a talented engineer, and by the early 1960s, Honda was the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles. From this immense success, Honda was inspired to begin automobile production in 1962. Honda's first vehicle, the pint-size S-360, failed to make a dent in the American market, and it was not until 1972, and the introduction of the Civic 1200, that Honda became a serious contender in the industry. The fuel crisis of 1973 was the catalyst that thrust Honda and other Japanese auto manufacturers into the forefront of the international market. Cars like the Honda Civic proved far more durable and fuel efficient than anything being produced in Detroit at the time, and American consumers embraced Japanese-made automobiles. In 1973, Soichiro Honda retired from the top position at Honda, but the company he founded went on to become an industry leader, establishing such successful marques as the Accord, which by 1989 was the best-selling car in America.

Posted by Quality Weenie at November 17, 2006 07:38 AM | TrackBack