The story of Honda is one that starts with monumental failure, but turns around into one of the biggest runaway successes in the history of the automotive industry. How did this failed producer of piston rings develop into the world-beating brand we know and love today? Below you can find out more.
Born Into Failure
Honda’s founder, Soichiro Honda started a piston ring company called Tokai Seiki (Eastern Sea Precision Machine Company), which originally intended to supply their product to none other than future automotive rival, Toyota. The problem was that Honda’s lack of quality control meant that the piston rings were rejected by Toyota, and he was forced to rethink.
After a period of engineering training and work experience, Honda improved the production process and method and created a product acceptable to Toyota. By then, however, the spectre of war loomed large across the world, and Japan’s largest companies were thrown into the intense heat of wartime production.
After the war, Honda sold this company and used the money to set up Honda first as a research group, which was later liquidated and the proceeds used to form Honda Motor Co.
The first vehicle they ever produced was actually a motorized bicycle, which was made using engines from the war surplus. Once those ran out, they developed their own, and the Honda A-Type “Bata Bata” was born – a name borne out of the distinctive sound they made.
By the 1960s, Honda reached higher and expanded into trucks and cars. The first car they produced was the iconic S500 sports car. It seemed that Honda had proven itself an adaptable organisation, capable of great reform and innovation after each setback. This made the company resilient, especially when coupled with the strong leadership and infectious ethos of positive change that ran throughout the operation.
Trouble in the 1990’s
After a series of leadership setbacks in the years leading up to the 1990s, Honda had started to fall behind its major competitors. The lack of decisive measure in the company had left the company exposed to the increasingly fierce competition, especially from Mitsubishi, who were doing very well after the success of the Pajero and Diamante models.
Honda was missing the wave of wealth produced by the boom in trucks and SUV’s that was happening in the 1990s, leading eventually to much talk of a hostile takeover of Honda by rival Mitsubishi. Under the leadership of new CEO Nobuhiko Kawamoto, however, the company rebounded and introduced new models to counter the increasing threat.
One of the models that helped to save Honda in those turbulent times was none other than JDM favourite, the Honda Odyssey. This stylish MPV was a big hit around the world, and even today remains a popular selection among JDM imports enthusiasts. The Odyssey was part of a broader strategy to rejuvenate the company’s image after rumours of hostile takeovers had made Honda look like the sick man of the automotive world.
The spirit of innovation and rebirth in the face of difficulty and failure has become the defining characteristic of this world-beating brand. From piston rings to full-blown cars, motorcycles, trucks and even jet engines, Honda is an industry in and of itself.
After decades of development, change and challenge, Honda is now not only one of the most recognisable car brands out there, but also one of the biggest operating companies. Generating annual revenue upwards of $140 billion USD, and employing some 215,000 employees worldwide, Honda is already the world’s largest producer of motorcycles, having produced 400 million or so units in 2019. They also produce 14 million internal combustion engines annually.
The company is now formed as a conglomerate featuring several different divisions, and they even produce the renowned luxury car brand, Acura.
Honda In The World Of JDM
Honda’s participation in the world of JDM is beyond noticeable; they are a stalwart mainstay, with many great models sought after by JDM importers and drivers alike. Non-JDM Honda’s have had consistently good sales around the globe, and the brand enjoys a strong reputation for reliability, style and overall quality.
What are the main factors that make Honda such an attractive choice to so many drivers around the world? Which models have been part of that story; that mission to capture the driving public’s imagination?
1. The company’s localised approach to business
Before we even get to the cars, there’s so much to love about the company and its operating ethos. Unlike many competitors, Honda doesn’t operate a top-down centralised business model. It allows its subsidiaries to work freely, and to produce new models and styles that fit with their domestic market needs. This means that every Honda is built with its local customer base in mind.
2. Fewer robots, more people
Another thing to love is the company’s focus on people. When you buy a Honda, be it domestically produced or a JDM import, you are buying something that was truly created by people. Honda’s leaders have always believed that while robots are useful for those tasks that are genuinely dangerous to human workers, they should not be installed simply for efficiency’s sake.
Let’s say you import a great JDM MPV like the Honda Elysion to the UK. Do you know why the Elysion comes with that more compact frame, perfect for the UK’s tighter spaces? That’s the “human touch” difference, where workers have spotted things about car production and design and shared it with their team. The result is a car better suited to the human experience. No robot could provide you with such insights.
3. Style, variety, innovation — the great trinity
Honda always does a good job of making even the seemingly less-appealing categories of cars seem exciting and appealing. Only Honda, for example, could deliver us the Stepwgn, and better yet its Stepwgn Field Deck (1998) addition. With a raised cabin, all-important 8th seat and other features, the Stepwgn quickly set itself apart as the true big-family or group-use Honda.
The Field Deck model even came with its own campsite built in — expandable roof into an upper deck sleeping space, fold-down rear seats for full-length bed, built-in camp stove and table, electrical outlets, cupholders and more. It’s this level of innovation, even as far back as the 1990s, that was putting Honda on the map.
4. Reliability — keeping people on the road
Finally, Hondas are simply a symbol of reliability. The Honda badge is one that distracts any potential buyer from the actual model or year of the car they’re looking at. It instantly becomes a great car to depend on. A cursory glance at online reliability rankings show that Honda is a regular resident in the top echelons of the cut-throat world of automotive competition.
Looking To The Future
Honda has become even more renowned for their recent technological developments in the world of eco-friendly car models. As time wears on, and some more of these cars enter the sphere of Japanese domestic-model imports, we may see further the growth of popularity of the Honda brand.
Even now there are great Japanese Hondas to import and from which we can benefit greatly.
Take time to explore our own range of Honda import cars and find a great-value family car that will help you live the strong and innovative message of this great Japanese brand.