10 Things Few People Know About Honda
While Honda is a household name today, this list reveals that there's so much more to the Japanese automaker's story than motorcycles and cars
Honda automobiles are ubiquitous on American roads - the manufacturer moved nearly a million units in 2022. People love Hondas due to their practicality, value for money, build quality, and, most importantly, durability. Without exaggeration, Honda Accords are million-mile cars. The latest one to hit the million-mile mark was a 2003 coupe driven by a medical delivery driver.
In late 2023, Consumer Reports found that Honda is the 5th most reliable car in the United States. Above it are three fellow Japanese automakers and BMW (surprise!). The automaker’s success is no fluke, considering it spends billions of dollars yearly on research and development. This article delves deeper into the Japanese manufacturer, detailing some of its lesser-known facts and here are 10 things few people know about Honda.
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Soichiro Honda was entranced when he saw his first motor vehicle. The son of a blacksmith and a weaver, Soichiro showed disinterest in formal education. Indeed, aged 15, he dropped out of school and headed to Tokyo to work in the auto industry. Though uneducated and experienced only in blacksmithing and repairing bicycles, he earned an apprenticeship opportunity in Art Shokai, one of Tokyo’s leading auto repair shops.
Innovative and enthusiastic, Soichiro caught the eye of Yuzo Sakakibara, the repair shop’s owner. After completing his training, Soichiro opened an Art Shokai branch in his native Hamamatsu. Despite the branch’s success, Honda wanted more, so he started planning a route into manufacturing.
Alongside Shichiro Kato, he set up Tokai Seiki, a heavy industry company that manufactured piston rings. Toyota rejected the first batch of piston rings delivered by Honda. Undeterred, Soichiro sharpened his craft, eventually becoming one of Toyota’s main parts suppliers.
Unfortunately, World War II bombings and a 1945 earthquake destroyed Soichiro’s manufacturing plants, forcing him to sell the remnants of his company to Toyota. Soichiro used the proceeds to create the Honda Technical Research Institute. Honda, quick to recognize an opportunity, used war surplus 50cc engines with bicycles to make motorized bicycles. After depleting the war supply, Honda developed his own version of the engine.
In 1949, the manufacturer made its first complete motorcycle, named the Dream or the D-Type. The Dream, powered by a 98cc engine, was an instant success. From the rubble of his parts supply company, Soichiro created what would become one of the most successful motorcycle companies in the world. Honda is the global leader in the motorcycle sector, accounting for nearly one-third of motorcycle sales.
The two main contributors to Honda’s rapid growth were the excellence of its products and an astute marketing campaign. The epitome of Honda’s marketing drive was a 1960s song titled Little Honda by The Hondells, a group of artists put together by producer Gary Usher. Little Honda was originally written and performed by The Beach Boys. It became a major US hit as part of a Gary Usher-produced album promoting Honda machinery.
Little Honda advertised Honda motorcycles as fun and fast. More importantly, however, it portrayed the manufacturer's bikes as suitable for everyone. In the 1960s, motorcycles were associated with antisocial and errant individuals. Little Honda demolished that stereotype, broadening Honda’s market. Honda sales skyrocketed, as did Little Honda’s position on the U.S. Charts.
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Following stunning success as a motorcycle manufacturer, Honda ventured into automobile production, debuting its first vehicle, the Honda T360 truck, in 1963. It was rapidly followed by a gorgeous two-door roadster dubbed the S500. Honda increased its automobile offerings in 1965, releasing a commercial delivery van named the L700.
Eager to expand its portfolio, the manufacturer diversified - it expanded into power equipment like lawnmowers, boat engines, and hedge trimmers. In the late 20th century, Honda launched a robotics division. It introduced ASIMO, a humanoid robot, in 2000, saying that it developed the robot to assist people. The Japanese company also manufactures airplanes and their engines.
Introduced four years apart in the 1970s, the Civic and Accord became Honda’s first automotive success beyond Japan’s borders. Introduced as a coupe and later as a hatchback, the Civic was an instant hit, earning praise for its reliability and fuel efficiency. The Civic’s design influenced competitor vehicle designs - Volkswagen, Ford, and other manufacturers borrowed the Civic’s hatchback design. The Civic is the most successful Honda automobile - the company has sold over 12 million units in the U.S. alone and 30 million units globally.
The Accord was the first Japanese vehicle manufactured in the United States. It was such a hit in the U.S. that the company decided to build the car in the country instead of exporting. At one point, the Accord was the best-selling car in the U.S., a first for a foreign brand. The U.S. still loves the car - it draws praise for its build quality, practicality, and drivability. Honda has sold over 18 million Accords.
Honda, already a winner in F1, began its IndyCar project in the late 1980s. The sheer speed of IndyCar machinery around oval courses inspired the company’s hierarchy to invest in joining IndyCar. However, the company almost abandoned the project as IndyCar’s hierarchy introduced rules that seemed designed to keep Honda away. The Japanese manufacturers had high expectations heading into the 1994 season.
However, it endured a miserable campaign, forcing it back to the drawing board. It introduced a new engine in the middle of 1995, which should have won the Indy 500 race (Honda lost victory due to a driver penalty). A victory was imminent, considering the team’s trajectory, and it arrived in the 15th race of the 1995 season. Since then, Honda has been a mainstay in IndyCar, powering many teams and drivers to victory. From 2006 to 2011, it was the sole IndyCar engine supplier.
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In the 1980s, Japanese manufacturers participated in a battle to see who could produce the best four-wheel steering (4WS) system. The Prelude, the first active 4WS vehicle sold stateside, had a mechanical 4WS system - a shaft connected the front-steering rack to the rear. A gearbox determined the degree of rear steering depending on the front steering angle.
In 1991, four years after the 4WS Prelude appeared in the U.S., Honda debuted a second-gen 4WS system in the same car. The manufacturer replaced the front-to-rear steering shaft and planetary gearbox with an electronic motor and computer controls. The system flopped overseas but remained a popular option in Japan throughout the 90s.
Honda’s foray into soybean export from the U.S. to Japan began via a chance meeting between a company executive and a soybean supplier intending to increase soybean shipments to Japan. Honda saw an opportunity to reuse containers that carried parts to the U.S. and returned empty. The Japanese company marketed the idea to authorities by saying it would benefit Ohio farmers.
Via its Honda Trading America subsidiary, the company began export operations. Ohio’s high-protein soybeans were beloved in Japan, where people substitute meat for soybeans. The business is very lucrative for Honda - it makes billions of dollars in gross revenue exporting U.S. soybeans to Japan.
The EV Plus represented Honda’s first attempt to produce an electric vehicle. Powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery, the EV Plus was the first car to deviate from lead-acid batteries. The heavy battery provided a decent range of between 60 and 80 miles. If driven conservatively, the EV Plus could cover 100 miles on a full charge. The hatchback EV filled up in about 2 hours using a 220-volt supply.
For 1997, the EV Plus was a good car. However, it flopped badly due to the following reasons:
Honda scrapped the EV Plus and its EV project after leasing 330 units.
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Honda developed the NSX to be a world-beater. The manufacturer designed the NSX alongside the late racing legend Ayrton Senna. Despite its brilliance, the NSX was a sales failure, prompting its discontinuation. It reemerged in 2015, looking significantly different from the model it replaced.
Honda’s attempt to compete with the likes of Audi and Porsche involved hybrid technology. The NSX’s powertrain consists of three electric motors, two on the front axle, and a 3.5-liter turbocharged V6. It's 593 horsepower and 476 pound-feet power the vehicle to 62 MPH in under three seconds and to a 191 MPH top speed. In the United States, the NSX sells under the Acura badge.
Moses Karomo is an enthusiastic automotive writer who can talk and write endlessly about EVs. He has extensive automotive reporting experience, writing about all manner of automotive topics. He keeps up with innovations and trends in the car industry to provide readers with up-to-date information about the ever-evolving automotive industry. When not writing, Moses is traveling or cooking.