With its peak power shifted down to lower rpm speeds, the newly conceived engine displayed a better-than-expected fuel performance from the prototype stage. This was due in part to the adoption of fuel-efficient automobile technologies. But even as the team felt that achieving best-in-class fuel efficiency was no longer a dream, some project members remained apprehensive.
"My worry was that an engine that used technologies from an automobile and departed from the high speeds and outputs of typical large crossover bikes might not make for a fun motorcycle," said Osuka, calling to mind his feelings at the time. "There's no point in a motorcycle if it's not fun to ride, no matter how fuel efficient."
His apprehension proved unfounded, however, when the test rider for the project, Researcher Toshiya Uchida, rode the prototype for the first time.
"It had a riding feel I had never experienced before. Not only was it fun, but adding specifications (basic design) from a fuel-efficient car engine gave it a personality and feel unlike any other kind of motorcycle."
Of course, it was incomplete as far as engines for large motorcycles go, and it needed numerous improvements. But Uchida distinctly felt something inherently pleasing about it, and was convinced that it could work if refined.
"Designers tend to think fondly of the engines they design themselves. So when Toshiya—who had tested hundreds of engines before—said it would do, I was quite surprised," said Osuka. "I was pretty nervous for someone who specializes in engines. I was expecting he'd ride it and tell us, 'no way,'" said Negoro, smiling. The development team had now come to the hardest part of their mission. To give the engine all of the appeal befitting a sport-touring crossover, it still had to undergo a major transformation. "When improving comfort for cars you think of reducing vibrations as much as possible. Motorcycles, though, need something extra," said Negoro.
So, in contrast with the cylinders in automobile engines, which are typically ignited at even intervals, The team tuned the twin cylinders in this engine to ignite at uneven intervals. They also made the valve timing, which is usually the same for all cylinders, slightly different. This produced a full-bodied, powerful revving sound. "One of the most important factors for having fun riding a motorcycle is the engine's linear response to operation of the throttle," said Osuka.
The team thus sought to optimize not only the engine body but also the intake and exhaust systems. Automobile engines, which are relatively large, cannot be used on a motorcycle as is. To make the engine more compact, they reversed the direction of the crankshaft rotation and also changed the relative positioning of the cylinders and crankshaft.
Aoki also wanted to validate the team's development approach with objective data. So he measured and analyzed the daily riding activities of regular users at multiple locations in Europe. The results showed that 90% of all riding was conducted at 140 km/h or less and 80% at 6,000 rpm or less—exactly the speed range at which the new motorcycle was most proficient.
Despite this, many in the company were skeptical that the "most fuel-efficient large crossover bike" concept targeted by the project team would be well received by users. Unlike the attraction of clear-cut numbers such as horsepower, rpm, and maximum speed, the value of a motorcycle like Aoki's couldn't be understood without riding it. To expel any concerns over whether such a development project should be allowed to continue, Aoki tried a daring tactic.
"I decided to have President Takanobu Ito ride it and give it his seal of approval."
Aoki managed to have the prototype included at the last minute in President Ito's upcoming test-ride event in Hokkaido.
After stepping off the motorcycle, President Ito made the following remarks.
"The engine feels different from anything I've ridden before. This is the one that has impressed me the most at this event. It felt like the R&D Center is taking bold steps to change."
When word about President Ito's comment got around, the atmosphere at the office took a U-turn. Skepticism was replaced by eager requests to see and ride the prototype. No surprise there, as President Ito is himself a motorcycle enthusiast who often rides around on large-size motorcycles. Interest in the project grew, and turned into enthusiasm, once associates wanted to know more about the motorcycle President Ito had said he liked. "I was confident he'd give it a thumbs-up if he rode it. The tactic worked," laughed Aoki.
As the team made progress toward realizing the best-in-class fuel efficiency and developing the motorcycle's personality, Aoki worked on the cost-reduction target. Minor tweaks are just not enough to pull off a 30% reduction. The team had to make fundamental modifications to the engine such as rearranging its layout, eliminating and combining parts, and changing materials and surface finishing, and then rebuild it from there.
They even redesigned parts that were typically borrowed from other models. Altogether, these technological innovations amounted to an approximately 23% reduction in cost—still not enough. No matter how hard he tried, Aoki could not cut the remaining 7%. And so he did what no other developer had done for a large motorcycle before: he procured parts from overseas. This at last provided the extra cost cuts he needed to reach 30%.
"Honda has manufacturing plants in over 20 countries worldwide. We decided to procure parts from suppliers at those overseas plants." Aoki had suppliers around the world make prototypes of the new parts and then inspected and tested them. He continued this work, increasing the number of foreign-procured parts one by one. "We practically traveled the globe. Ultimately the overseas procurement rate for this motorcycle exceeded 40%," said Aoki.
And so the New Mid Series, after many twists and turns in its development, was released in Europe in November 2011 and in Japan in February 2012. It has drawn an avid response from users and is showing strong sales in both regions. Looking back on the development of the New Mid Series, Aoki gave the following last words.
"Honda announced that its goal until 2020 will be to provide 'good products to customers with speed, affordability, and low CO2 emissions.' The New Mid Series certainly contributes to that goal, but actually it was the New Mid Series that established the concept. I tell everyone around me that it was Honda that adopted the New Mid concept, not the other way around [chuckling]. That's how important reading society's needs was in achieving our success. But such success is not so much the result of things like surveys and statistics. It's a tangible result of what everyone on the project team thought and felt. Surveys and statistics can tell you about what happened in the past and what's happening now, but talking about the future is a special skill unique to humans. I want to have an attitude that says 'I'm going to make history,' and keep developing products that change the future."
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