Like Toyota, Honda has been an Oriental vehicle manufacturer that has produced finely engineered cars that are reliable and practical. On the race track, Honda has been behind many race winning formulas and their proven technology and engineering prowess has also been used for other products outside of the automobile industry both in Australia and overseas. But it is through the Honda dealers network that the marque is best known. Here’s how it started…
Soichiro Honda was the founder of what is known as the Honda Research Institute Company Ltd. A mechanic by trade, Soichiro Honda had the nous to develop his own design of piston ring, which he sought to sell to Toyota. After constructing a new facility to supply Toyota, his facilities were almost completely destroyed when World War II struck Japan. Although starved of money and fuel, Japan was in need of some basic means of transport. Honda got his manufacturing facilities up and running again. No startling workshop technology here – just a simple wooden shack served Soichiro Honda and his workmen to fit engines to bicycles. On the 24th September 1948, the Honda Company and the first Honda dealer was launched.
Eventually, new designs for a range of scooters and motorcycles were built. They were sold fast, and any losses incurred during the war for Soichiro Honda were quickly recovered.
It was in the 1960s that Honda began developing prototypes for road cars. The first vehicle with four wheels rather than two was actually a tiny pickup truck called the T360. The tiny truck was a practical vehicle that was powered by a 360cc, 30 horsepower engine. Two months later, Honda launched their first car, called the S500. This was a nippy little car that was based on Honda’s mastery of motorbikes. The S500 was a 2-door roadster featuring a 492cc engine which was capable of 44 horsepower. A 4-speed transmission driving the rear wheels by a chain, and the high redline were engineering traits typical of Honda’s extensive knowledge of motorcycle mechanics.
The 1960s were not only a success for Honda’s car and motorbike production. It was the late sixties that saw Honda pull off their first F1 win on the race track in Mexico.
Honda finally established a foothold with the American dealers in 1972 with the introduction of the Civic. It was introduced just prior to the 1973 fuel crisis. And because small cars were not really on the agenda for the American big-car manufacturers, this gave the Honda Civic a chance to sell well and prove Honda’s reputation for reliability. Shortly after the Honda Civic came onto the American market, the car was ranked first in the U.S fuel economy tests.
In 1976, the Honda Accord was launched. It took very little time before the new Honda Accord became quickly known as a car that was fun to drive. Added to the fun factor was the car’s value, reliability and economy. In 1982, Honda-America began assembling the Honda Accord, which, not long after, became the best selling car in the United States. Nearly 20 years later, in the year 2000, the Honda Accord again topped America’s best selling car results. And today, a quick glance around a crowded Sydney or Melbourne street will show you that Honda remains popular in Australia, too.
Perhaps the mandate of “Do Not Imitate”, given as a statement by Soichiro Honda, continues to guide the team at Honda. Certainly, Honda, throughout the eighties and nineties, remained at the leading edge of car design and technology. In 1987, the Honda Prelude was the first passenger vehicle in the world equipped with four-wheel steering. Also in the same year, the Honda Legend became the first Japanese car to be equipped with an SRS airbag. In 1989, Honda launched their VTEC variable valve timing system. Engines with this technology have improved efficiency and performance across a wider spread of engine speeds. In 1999, Honda began selling the small two-seater Insight. This little car is a hybrid that obtains engine power from a gasoline engine and also a large NiMH battery pack that kicks in under acceleration. The result is a small car with extremely low fuel consumption. Honda has made this hybrid power available for the Honda Civic and Honda Accord as an optional model.
Honda currently builds over 14 million internal combustion engines every year many for the millions of cars sold through its worldwide dealers. This is truly a phenomenal number, making Honda the largest engine-maker in the world.
Honda Australia has a vast array of motoring awards and trophies that is growing in number each year, and Honda’s cars and motorbikes continue to be popular worldwide – few major urban centres are without specialist Honda dealers. Being currently very strong economically, and continuing to remain at the forefront of innovation, Honda Australia’s future is very bright.
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