February 5, 2007

Honda

And the man behind the brand is...
Soichiro Honda

In a land of conformity Soichiro Honda was a rebel. The son of a blacksmith born on the southern coast of Honshu in 1906, Honda dropped out of technical high school and in the 1930s began racing cars. He built a small piston-ring company, reveling in the sounds and smells of engines.

Honda set out to build his piston-ring plant but because Japan was hording materials in preparation for World War he was unable to obtain cement. Undaunted, Honda built the plant by learning to make his own cement. The factory survived repeated bombings in World War II but was then destroyed by an earthquake.

From his ruined machine shop Honda went into the motorcycle business. He once remarked that he happened on the idea for fitting an engine to a bicycle simply because he did not want to ride the incredibly crowded trains and buses in Japan.

The early post-war years were so lean that Honda once carried heavy motorcycle parts in his clothing on an airplane because he could not afford the excess baggage charges. A financially talented partner kept the business afloat which freed Honda to wield his technical skills (Honda would hold 360 patents) and test his unconventional management philosophies.

Before Honda, a motorcyle in America meant “Hell’s Angel.” Honda’s plan was to sell motorcylces to those who had never thought about it before. Single-handedly he sold the motorcycle to the middle class as a leisure-time sport in developed countries. In poorer lands his motorbikes brought transportation within rach of impoverished millions.

He made the smallest, lightest motorcycles available. He added features to make the bikes easier to handle for women. Performance-wise his motorcycles ruled Grand Prix competition, winning every possible racing prize.

In the early 1960s a UCLA undergraduate submitted an advertising campaign as a class requirement, featuring the theme, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” His instructor sent the paper to Grey Advertising and Honda adopted it. By 1965 one of every two motorcycles sold in the United States was a Honda. From scratch, in ten years Honda dominated the world industry.

In 1963 Honda went into the car business. By the 1960s there weren’t many entrees for newcomers into the competition with the established automakers of the world. Soichiro Honda produced a gas-sipping car that caused less pollution as his mark. He did so not with expensive added equipment but by designing a more efficient engine. Honda’s super-efficient four-cylinder engine was an industry landmark.

His Honda Civic reached America in 1972 and the Accord in 1976 (“By the time we got into the business all the good names like ‘Cougar’ and ‘Wildcat’ were taken”). The incredibly popular cars rank as all-time best-sellers. At an age when many Japanese businessmen were just assuming the top job Honda, who favored longish hair and loud socks, abruptly retired after the introduction of the Civic.

He became an ambassador for his business philosophies, speaking to youth groups on self-reliance, hard work, respect for parents and safe driving. “I’m not concerned with making money anymore,” he said. “You see, a life is like an airplane journey. No matter how good the takeoff, no matter how good the flight, if you have a crash landing, then it was all for nothing. I am coming in for the landing now. The important part of my life is just beginning.”

1 comment:

Prudence said...

You write very well.