Honda released its first outboard engine in 1964. At a time when 2-stroke engines were the norm, Honda took the bold step of releasing a 4-stroke engine. Although 2-stroke engines were light and powerful, they polluted the sea with oil. On the other hand, 4-stroke engines were clean, but their cost and weight proved problematic. Honda’s decision to release a 4-stroke model was based on the belief of our founder Soichiro Honda that “vessels that cross the sea should not dirty the water”. However, the model struggled due to the cost and weight hurdles.
As Honda worked steadily to refine 4-stroke technology, heightened interest in environmental problems meant that people were beginning to question the merits of 2-stroke engines. In 1987, Honda developed a new BF45 outboard engine and set out to take on the market. I was tasked with the design. I created a design proposal based on the previous BF series, but when I presented it to the evaluation committee in the U.S., I was ordered to go back and create a completely new design—something distinctive that would make a Honda 4-stroke engine stand out at first glance. I was at a loss for ideas after a fruitless period in the design studio, so I traveled to a marina in the U.S. and sat there all day, watching the boats and searching for inspiration.
After several days staring at the ocean, an
image formed in my mind of expressing the
unity between people, nature, and
technology. I returned to the design studio
and began sketching furiously. What resulted was a sleek outboard motor resembling the shape of a dolphin. Conventional wisdom at the time dictated that outboard engines were square with straight silhouettes. My design was completely different. I thought, “I’ve got it!” At the time, however, I had yet to come up with ideas for the coloring.
I continued traveling around the U.S., going from marina to marina. After I returned to Japan, I was looking through the photographs I took during my trip, when I came across a snapshot of the silver Accord I had driven, set against the Monterey Bay sunset. Although the car was silver, in the light of the sunset it appeared gold. “This is perfect!” I thought. Silver is a color that is best accented by the ocean, sparkling with the orange of the sunset and the blue of the sea.
The sleek, dolphin-like shape that blended with the boat and the silver coloring that reflected the natural beauty of the ocean were approved as the new design. After this, we took color panels (metal panels painted with the candidate color shades) to oceans around the world for testing. We studied the slight variations in different hues of silver, and also placed a prototype in an ocean in the U.S. for testing. We discovered that the top of the silver outboard motors reflected the sky, appearing blue, while the lower section reflected the sea spray, appearing white. As expected, there were many things that could only be learned by testing in an actual marine environment. Honda’s policy is to test everything in the actual environment it will be used.
In a world where square outboard motors were the norm, the streamlined, sparkling silver 4-stroke BF45 stood out at marinas across the globe, instantly recognizable as a Honda engine. Plus, its silver color matched any color of boat. Thanks to its popularity, the BF45 captured the biggest prize in the global marine industry. At sea, the color silver came to be associated with Honda. Although the shade may adapt to meet the times, I believe the silver of the original non-polluting 4-stroke engine will remain Honda’s trademark.