The third generation Fit had a mission: To take the global market by storm. The two studios in Japan were joined by design development centers around the world including Italy and Germany, generating numerous design concepts to build a life-size mockup.
The designers repeated the process of selecting a promising design concept and brushing it up, and on the tenth attempt encountered a design they were satisfied with. "The previous generation Fit was a good design, but Europe saw it merely as a convenient car, not taking the center stage of small cars," analyzes Murakawa. "It lacked a sporty dynamism, a head-turner on the Autobahn."
Seeing the progress of the exterior design, Kitajima was convinced the interior design also needed to be on par.
Concepts that were "not new enough" or "not technically viable" were rejected or revised, leading to the cockpit motif, concentrating needed functionality to the driver. On the seventh attempt, Kitajima was satisfied with the design that was "better than the previous generation Fit."
But, both Murakawa and Kitajima still felt an uncertain. "Is Honda exciting our customers?"
"At the time the atmosphere within Honda was one of 'is this really enough?'" Kitajima recalls. "We felt that to win the world over, we had to raise the Honda design brand."
It all started in a small meeting room, with five or six members discussing Honda's design. The result was a video titled "Ask myself," interviewing people around the world on how they viewed Honda, half a century after the R&D center was established.
Positive comments included: Empowered; New; Flowing; Single-minded; Challengers; United in their goals; Enthusiastic in achieving the ultimate; Technicians; Fresh; Stylish; Familiar; Continually growing; Powerful; Speedy; Fun.
But the interviewees also voiced sharp criticism, through their love of Honda.
These comments included: Designs need to be improved; Not enthusiastic; Old fashioned; Uninteresting; Thin; Not customer-driven; Just following the bosses orders; Need to be mischievous.
Nearing the end, the video poses a question: "Are we living up to what the world expects of us?"
The scenes following show countless messages handwritten on A4 paper by the designers, including Kitajima and Murakawa, the result of asking their co-workers, "What excites you?" Kitajima recalls, "we weren't sure how many would participate, but we managed to collect more than 100 responses."
Inspired by the passionate responses, Kitajima and Murakawa reviewed their Fit designs. Better than the previous generation, but is "better" good enough?
"We were bound by 'Fit-ness,' or what the Fit should be like," Murakawa explains. "By going beyond that, we managed to aim at building the world's best small car."
Time, however, was running out. They were already at the stage of applying manufacturing technologies to mass production.
Conventional methods would take too long. They decided to hold a fortnight-long "Fit Festival," Honda-speak for "anyone wanting to contribute in the design process, can."
Project leaders for other Honda models assembled. Focus was placed beyond the Fit, to how Honda design should evolve in the future. When fighting the world, compromises such as "good enough for a small car" was not allowable. Perfection was the only way to be Number One. The consensus: "Let's forget about cost for the moment, and design what we really want."
The festival resulted in sketches that the interior and exterior designers confidently considered as the "world's best small car." This strong passion, presented at the company's evaluation meeting, was fused with plans for the Fit matured over years, to become the final design.
The uniqueness of Honda's design development lies in the "unwavering confidence the company has in its people," Kitajima explains with pride. "Without the 'Ask myself' movement, asking ourselves what the R&D center or designers should be like, or what better ideas could be realized through more minds working on the problem, the Fit design would not have been the same."
The Fit is "a car that can truly do anything for, and be anything to the customer," describes Murakawa, involved with Fit design development from the first generation. "I think the Fit's depth and versatility made it so popular. And with each generation, the Fit evolves in some important way. Cars are my life. I believe Honda can do things new and amazing in this ever-changing world, starting with the Fit."
The New Fit, full of fun and seriousness, distinct to Honda, will undoubtedly excite drivers and onlookers alike at home, and everywhere around the world.