Honda's American Journey


Honda 50

25 pivotal moments in 50 eventful years

In 50 years in America, Honda has grown from an obscure motorcycle maker to an automotive powerhouse.

In this special section, Automotive News presents the 25 turning points that made Honda what it is today in the United States.

-- Keith Crain, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

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Starting small, American Honda learns from mistakes

In September 1959, the one-story motorcycle showroom on Pico Boulevard in west Los Angeles didn't look like the headquarters of what would become a major U.S. automaker. The apartment that Kihachiro Kawashima, American Honda Motor Co.'s general manager, shared with two subordinates wasn't anything to brag about either. "We were so strapped for cash that the three of us shared a furnished apartment that rented for $80 a month," Kawashima ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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The Honda Way is unpredictable, contrarian — and successful

The U.S. auto industry has the usual way of doing things. And the Honda Way.It is not a corporate mission statement or prescribed set of company rules. It is more like a reminder floating in the corporate culture that Honda must see around corners better than competitors. For outsiders, Honda's decisions in North America can seem downright contrarian. At its foundation, the Honda Way is a strong engineering ethic of efficiency and ... 306089994 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Honda bike was the setting for mental love

John Marin, the former Western manager for Sports Illustrated in Los Angeles, hosted founder Soichiro Honda for dinner in the 1960s. Marin spoke with News Editor Charles Child. In the very early '60s, it became my good fortune to be the individual at SI responsible for the then-just-beginning-to-come-to-the-U.S.A. Japanese companies. I probably was the initial media representative to regularly call on those ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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N600 was a really small first step

The first car Honda sold in the United States, the N600, was small and boxy. It had two doors, four seats -- and no heater.But it was a start. The N600 demonstrated that the Japanese automaker, best known as a motorcycle maker, had automotive ambitions. A decade later, in 1979, Honda sold 353,291 cars in the United States. The N600 was a tiny car, even compared with the Big 3's compacts. In an era when bigger was perceived as better, ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Look at that odd engine in the 1975 Honda Civic

A unique cylinder head made the clean-running 1975 Honda Civic CVCC an engineering marvel.But good old-fashioned marketing and a catchy tag line did just as much to elevate the car and Honda's image for technological competence in its critical early years in the United States. As strict emissions standards loomed for the 1975 model year, most of the world's automakers decided to clean up exhaust gasses after they left the engine. They ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Americans' love for sporty Hondas started in Japan

America's love affair with Honda automobiles started years before the company officially sold its first cars in the United States in 1969. Honda today is best known for its solid and dependable Civic and Accord sedans. But in the 1960s it was small, high-revving sports cars that got Honda noticed outside the motorcycle world. Hundreds of American servicemen stationed in Japan in the 1960s liked their Honda sports cars so much, they ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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To sell autos, Honda turns to its motorcycle dealers

When American Honda launched its auto sales operation in 1970, it had a ready-made U.S. dealership network — or so the company thought. Honda had 32 motorcycle dealerships here. Handing the first auto franchises to those small businesses seemed the natural thing to do. But Honda quickly realized the huge difference between selling motorcycles and selling cars and nimbly changed course. Only a few of the original motorcycle dealers ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Sales chief steered clear of trucks

These days, Tom Elliott tours the United States in a gigantic motor home he bought just before he retired in 2005."It's a 40-foot Monaco Dynasty with a diesel engine," said the 67-year-old car aficionado, who ran American Honda's sales arm for 17 years. "It's like having a small apartment. We put 45,000 miles on it in four years." There's some irony in the fact that he's traveling around in a giant RV. That's because Elliott was the guy ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Making a small car look big

Gerry Rubin formed an ad agency, Rubin Postaer and Associates, that won the Honda account in 1986. Before that he worked on the Honda account for Needham Harper. He spoke with Staff Reporter Kathy Jackson. We came on when Honda was in its infancy, and we had an opportunity to take a pallet and put all the colors on it. But so did Honda because all Honda had was the Civic sedan. Granted, in 1970 it had the 600-series car. But ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Honda and ad agency grew together

The birth of Honda's long-standing advertising agency started with an acquisition.In 1986, Gerry Rubin and Larry Postaer, team members on the Honda account at the Needham Harper agency, were told that Needham had been sold to the Omnicom Group. Omnicom had the Volkswagen and Dodge accounts and decided to jettison Honda. That left Honda, a small but upcoming player in the United States, without an agency. So Rubin and Postaer thought: Why ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Oil embargo bad for many, great for Honda

Panic buying of gasoline during the oil shock of 1973-74 confirmed what dealer Ron Tonkin had foreseen a decade earlier when he began begging Honda Motor Co. for a car franchise. He wanted Honda even before the brand was sold in the United States. Tonkin, a successful Chevrolet dealer in Portland, Ore., believed that the price of gasoline could not stay low forever. And he predicted that Americans one day would embrace well-made imports. ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Gamble in rural Ohio pays off big

From the moment the first Honda Accord rolled off the assembly line on Nov. 10, 1982, it was clear that the Marysville Auto Plant in Ohio was unlike any other auto plant in the United States. Workers and managers wore white uniforms, a symbol of Honda's one-team philosophy. Honda described employees as associates. Each was trained for multiple jobs. Many employees, including managers, were plucked from the farms that surround Marysville ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Traveling through life on a Honda 50

Gary Treadwell's love affair with a Honda 50 motorcycle has lasted a lifetime. The retired Nissan senior manager talked with News Editor Charles Child. In 1968 a family member purchased a Honda 50 and drove it for a while until it started to need some maintenance, at which time I purchased it. At 14 years old, I was working in restaurants making some money. I began repairing motorcycles and cars in the neighborhood. It ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Honda's U.S. hiring pitch: No experience needed

Chuck Ernst challenged the Japanese executive recruiting him for a job at Honda of America Manufacturing in Marysville, Ohio, in 1985: "Why are you interviewing me?" "I know nothing about the auto business," said Ernst, then 27, who worked in a nearby steel mill. "As a teenager, I was a motorcycle enthusiast. But I know nothing about mass-producing cars or motorcycles or engines. So why me?" Responded Toyoji Yashiki, manager of Honda's ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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R&d center designs products for American tastes

When Honda opened its Ohio Center for r&d in 1985, it had a limited mission: Help develop interior and exterior styling for cars and trucks sold in North America. But Honda eventually needed a center to create vehicles for American tastes. So the Ohio Center, part of the Honda R&D Americas Inc., slowly evolved into a full-fledged product development operation. The center created such North American vehicles as the Acura MDX and Honda ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Honda's need for speed

Honda's involvement in racing is long and legendary. It has participated in Formula One, CART, Indy Racing League, IndyCar Series, motorcycle, motocross, sports car and touring car racing. It began with founder Soichiro Honda, who at the age of 22 adapted a V-8 Curtiss-Wright aircraft engine to a Ford chassis and set a Japanese speed record of 75 mph. In 1936, Soichiro Honda had an accident and pledged to his family that he wouldn't race ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Gold Wing, Honda's top motorcycle, finds its destiny in Ohio

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misstated when Honda started production of the Gold Wing motorcycle to Marysville, Ohio. Honda says the first Gold Wing came off the Marysville line on May 1, 1980. Honda's Gold Wing is a luxury touring motorcycle built for America's wide open roads. Ken Peterson, co-director of the 4,000-member Gold Wing Road Riders Association, Texas District, calls Honda's flagship bike the ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Honda develops U.S. suppliers willing to sweat the details

When Honda started building autos in the United States in 1982, less than 30 percent of the parts for the first Accords were made in North America. Engines and transmissions, for instance, were shipped from Japan. But today more than 80 percent of parts for Hondas made in North America are produced in North America. From the beginning, Honda made it a priority to develop suppliers here. ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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GM engineer tried an Accord and said 'Wow'

Allen Staples, now retired, was an engineer for General Motors. He kept a keen eye on Honda's progress. He spoke with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell. I always admired a great new car, no matter whose it was. Engineers are just that way. I remember when the first Honda car, the 600, showed up in the United States. I drove out to a Honda motorcycle store in Flint to look at it. I remember walking through that motorcycle ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Adaptability helps Honda weather industry changes

As gasoline prices began to soar in 2007, consumers clamored for more four-cylinder Honda Civics. But Honda already was producing as many Civics as it could in its assembly plants in East Liberty, Ohio, and Alliston, Ontario. No problem for Honda's flexible manufacturing plants. The company simply moved production of the Honda Pilot crossover from the Canadian plant to Honda's light-truck plant in Lincoln, Ala., where it makes the ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Dinnertime call spoiled appetite, helped career

Honda engineer Yasunari Seki was eating Chinese food with colleagues in Torrance, Calif., in January 2006 when he got a phone call from Japan. His superiors wanted him to be chief engineer of the redesigned Insight hybrid. He spoke about that day with Asia Editor Hans Greimel. It was in the United States while I was taking a business trip. I was there to attend the Detroit motor show because we had a plan to spread clean diesel ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Honda shows off its 'green halo'

Honda hasn't been shy about promoting its history of eco-friendly cars. Even so, not all of its environmental efforts have gotten the public attention they deserve. In a show of independent leadership, Honda broke ranks with the rest of the auto industry early in 2005 and called for tougher U.S. fuel economy standards. Its efforts helped pave the way for Congress to pass 2007 energy legislation that mandated more rigorous standards for cars ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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The journey to Acura began on a Mini Trail motorcycle

Mike Spencer, public relations manager for the Acura division, raced superbikes for Honda. But his first motorcycle wasn't a superbike — it was a Honda Mini Trail. He spoke with Special Correspondent Alysha Webb. My first motorcycle was a Honda Mini Trail. I managed to con my parents into buying it for me when I was in the fifth grade because all my buddies in school were totally into motorcycles and dirt bikes. That was back ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Those early ads turned a youngster into a believer

Scott Whitlock, former executive vice president of Honda of America Manufacturing, fondly remembers early Honda advertising. He spoke with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell. Is there anybody of my generation who doesn't remember the wonderful ads that Honda first ran in the 1960s when they came to America: "You meet the nicest people on a Honda"? They were brilliant. They were more than just pictures -- they were an image. ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Surprised motorist gets a crash course in imported cars

Dave Power, founder of J.D. Power and Associates, started working with American Honda in 1971 when Hondas were still a novelty on American roads. In 1973, a new Civic, in which Power was a passenger, surprised a Chevrolet driver — with unfortunate results. Power spoke to Special Correspondent Alysha Webb. When the first Civic came out, Yoshihide Munekuni, head of the automotive division at American Honda, invited me to lunch. ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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What do buyers want? Honda just asked them

When the 1973-74 oil embargo ignited U.S. consumers' demands for fuel-efficient vehicles, Honda was in the right place at the right time. For the next few years, Honda shipped all the Japan-made Civic small cars that Americans wanted. But Yoshihide Munekuni, Honda's U.S. auto sales chief, knew the company would have to expand its product line to remain relevant in the American market. That conviction became a long-term research program that ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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From Job 1, Accord was a winner

Few automakers hit a home run in the first inning.Henry Ford did it with the Model T — right car, right price, right time. Americans embraced it for a generation. The Accord did the same for Honda. In a car culture that believed bigger cars were better, the small 1976 Accord proved that good things did indeed come in small packages. In subsequent redesigns, Honda transformed the Accord from a small, imported Japanese hatchback ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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With Acura, Honda takes on luxury competition

In the early 1980s, Tom Elliott was convinced that Honda should sell more than small, inexpensive cars in the United States.At one memorable meeting in Japan, Elliott, then vice president of automotive operations at American Honda Motor Co., gave a two-hour presentation to Honda engineers and board members. Yoshihide Munekuni, the future president of American Honda, translated. "We felt that just adding model lines to the Honda franchise ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Naming specialist makes a point with Acura

When Honda wanted a name for its new luxury brand, it turned to NameLab Inc. Founder Ira Bachrach spoke with Special Correspondent Alysha Webb. Honda told us, "The first thing somebody thinks about is, aha, this [luxury car] is a Honda. Then we lose the ability to earn the social premium that luxury brands earn. The first thing people should think about is German luxury cars." We came up with a list of German luxury- ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Dealers live happily ever after

Rick and Rita Case met while Honda dealers in 1977. They married three years later. They told their story to Staff Reporter Donna Harris. Rick: I've been a Honda dealer 45 years. It's how I met my wife -- she was a Honda dealer. We met at the NADA convention in 1977 and were married in 1980. Rita: My father was a Honda dealer in Santa Rosa, California. I was raised in the Honda business and met Rick after college at ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Honda's dirty secret of bribes finally came to light

Just to show how screwed-up a good thing can get when greed and dishonesty get in the way, consider three of Honda's brightest lights in 1986: Jack Billmyer, Rick Hendrick and Frank Borman. Jack Billmyer, a 6-foot-4-inch stock car enthusiast, helped create the Honda retail network in the 1970s. He stoked Honda's business through the 1980s as its brusque and free-wheeling head of automotive sales. He attempted to retire in 1985, only to be ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Dick Colliver, hired at dark hour, led Honda into golden era

When Dick Colliver arrived in January 1993, American Honda Motor Co. was suffering. The Honda scandal, in which dealers had paid some executives for franchises and extra inventory, had gone public and had sown distrust throughout the company. Colliver, who was hired from Mazda as senior vice president of sales, cleaned up that mess. And in the coming years, despite entering Honda at one of the most difficult times in its history, Colliver ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Honda rules CART, boosts its racing stature

By the early 1990s, Honda had posted a long list of achievements in racing, from motorcycles to Formula One. So in 1994 it was natural for Honda to jump into the top U.S open-wheel racing league, Championship Auto Racing Teams, known as CART, to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and other prestigious races. Competition was intense. Chevrolet, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota provided engines at one time or another. But Honda soon dominated. ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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Less-is-more philosophy works for light trucks, too

Honda's first light truck was a very un-Honda vehicle.To wet its feet in the burgeoning U.S. truck market, Honda rebadged the Isuzu Rodeo SUV and sold it as the Honda Passport starting in 1994. Dick Colliver, American Honda's sales chief, who arrived at Honda in 1993, was horrified to learn that Honda was putting its name on the Isuzu vehicle. The Rodeo "didn't have the quality and the image" of a Honda car, says Colliver. ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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They made bikes, pondered planes; he chose Honda

Takanobu Ito, who takes the helm of Honda Motor Co. in late June, concedes his initial interest in Honda was fueled more by airplanes and motorbikes than automobiles. He joined the company in 1978. He spoke with Asia Editor Hans Greimel. What triggered my interest in joining Honda was that I used to study aircraft as a student. And I was thinking it would be good if I could get a job related to aerospace. I used to visit ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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To ride out the current storm, Honda returns to its roots

As the global financial storm raged last fall, Honda Motor Co. faced wrenching decisions. It chose to put plans for a new factory on ice, cancel Acura's debut in Japan, kill the NSX sports car and drop out of Formula One racing. And the company cut thousands of jobs at home and abroad. In short, Honda returned to its roots. It trimmed extras and relied on its long-standing less-is-more corporate philosophy. By at least one measure, the pain ... 12:01 am U.S. ET | June8

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