Honda Motor Company, Ltd. is a Japanese public multinational corporation primarily known as a manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles.
Honda has been the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer since 1959, as well as the world’s largest manufacturer of internal combustion engines measured by volume, producing more than 14 million internal combustion engines each year. Honda surpassed Nissan in 2001 to become the second-largest Japanese automobile manufacturer. As of August 2008, Honda surpassed Chrysler as the fourth largest automobile manufacturer in the United States.
Honda was the seventh largest automobile manufacturer in the world behind Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen AG, Hyundai Motor Group, Ford, and Nissan in 2010.
Honda was the first Japanese automobile manufacturer to release a dedicated luxury brand, Acura, in 1986. Aside from their core automobile and motorcycle businesses, Honda also manufactures garden equipment, marine engines, personal watercraft and power generators, amongst others. Since 1986, Honda has been involved with artificial intelligence/robotics research and released their ASIMO robot in 2000. They have also ventured into aerospace with the establishment of GE Honda Aero Engines in 2004 and the Honda HA-420 HondaJet, scheduled to be released in 2012. Honda invests about 5% of its revenues in research and development.
From a young age, Honda’s founder, Soichiro Honda (本田 宗一郎, Honda Sōichirō) (17 November 1906 – 5 August 1991) had an interest in automobiles. He worked as a mechanic at the Art Shokai garage, where he tuned cars and entered them in races. In 1937, with financing from an acquaintance, Kato Shichirō, Honda founded Tōkai Seiki (Eastern Sea Precision Machine Company) to make piston rings working out of the Art Shokai garage. After initial failures, Tōkai Seiki won a contract to supply piston rings to Toyota, but lost the contract due to the poor quality of their products. After attending engineering school, without graduating, and visiting factories around Japan to better understand Toyota’s quality control processes, Honda was able, by 1941, to mass produce piston rings acceptable to Toyota, using an automated process that could employ even unskilled wartime laborers.
Tōkai Seiki was placed under control of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (called the Ministry of Munitions after 1943) at the start of World War II, and Soichiro Honda was demoted from president to senior managing director after Toyota took a 40% stake in the company.
Honda also aided the war effort by assisting other companies in automating the production of military aircraft propellers. The relationships Honda cultivated with personnel at Toyota, Nakajima Aircraft Company and the Imperial Japanese Navy would be instrumental in the postwar period. A US B-29 bomber attack destroyed Tōkai Seiki’s Yamashita plant in 1944, and the Itawa plant collapsed in the 1945 Mikawa earthquake, and Soichiro Honda sold the salvageable remains of the company to Toyota after the war for ¥450,000, and used the proceeds to found the Honda Technical Research Institute in October 1946. With a staff of 12 men working in a 172-square-foot (16.0 m2) shack, they built and sold improvised motorized bicycles, using a supply of 500 two-stroke 50 cc Tohatsu war surplus radio generator engines.
When the engines ran out, Honda began building their own copy of the Tohatsu engine, and supplying these to customers to attach their bicycles. This was the Honda Model A, nicknamed the Bata Bata for the sound the engine made. The first complete motorcycle, with the both frame and engine made by Honda, was the 1949 Model D, the first Honda to go by the name Dream.
Honda Motor Company grew in a short time to become the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles by 1964.
The first production automobile from Honda was the T360 mini pick-up truck, which went on sale in August 1963. Powered by a small 356 cc straight-4 gasoline engine, it was classified under the cheaper Kei car tax bracket. The first production car from Honda was the S500 sports car, which followed the T360 into production in October 1963. Its chain driven rear wheels points to Honda’s motorcycle origins.
Over the next few decades, Honda worked to expand its product line and expanded operations and exports to numerous countries around the world. In 1986, Honda introduced the successful Acura brand to the American market in an attempt to gain ground in the luxury vehicle market. Honda in 1991 introduced the Honda NSX supercar, the first all-aluminum monocoque vehicle that incorporated a mid-engine V6 with variable-valve timing. Later, 1995 gave rise to the Honda Aircraft Company with the goal of producing jet aircraft under Honda’s name.
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