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Honda’s mission to create the ideal factory environment for future generations

The Kumamoto Factory, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

The Kumamoto Factory, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

The last Honda motorcycle factory in Japan

 The Kumamoto Factory, Honda’s fourth production center in Japan, reached completion in 1976. With the once steadily growing Japanese economy still reeling from the 1973 oil shock, times were turbulent back then. There were limits to what existing Honda factories could do to keep business thriving in the increasingly competitive mobility market. Some new initiative, some fundamental change, was in order. Honda’s answer was the Kumamoto Factory, built from the ground up on virgin land.
 The following year, the Kumamoto Factory entered full operation with the production of 50-70 cc class motorcycles, a job previously done by the Suzuka Factory. It steadily expanded thereafter, with the launch of mini-vehicle engines in 1988, followed by the production start of automatic transmissions for mini vehicles in 1990, and the full transfer of motorcycle production from the Suzuka Factory in 1991.
 In 2008, production of large motorcycles was transferred from the Hamamatsu Factory to make the Kumamoto Factory the sole producer of Honda motorcycles in Japan. Soon thereafter, automobile-related production and utility engines were transferred overseas and to other domestic factories. Today, the Kumamoto Factory produces 162,000 motorcycles, mostly large sport touring bikes, 30,000 inverter generators, and 12,000 home cogeneration units (FY2013 results).
Production line of Kumamoto Factory
Production line at Kumamoto Factory

Takayoshi Fukai, General Manager, Power Product Operations, Power Product Plant

Takayoshi Fukai, General Manager, Power Product Operations, Power Product Plant

Gold Wing sitting in the office lobby of the Kumamoto Factory

Gold Wing sitting in the office lobby of the Kumamoto Factory

Kumamoto Factory: motorcycle technology hub and Mecca for motorcycle owners

 “Our goal is to consolidate here all the advanced technical capabilities necessary for producing large sport touring bikes and make Kumamoto Factory a Mecca for Honda motorcycles. Power equipment production has followed the basic Honda policy of producing them where there’s demand, and so production of all products with high overseas demand has been moved overseas. Now we only produce those products with a high domestic demand.”
 As explained by Takayoshi Fukai, General Manager of the Power Product Plant at the Kumamoto Factory and General Environmental Administrator, the recent histories of motorcycles and power equipment produced at the Kumamoto Factory sit on opposite ends of a production strategy spectrum. Power engine production, which had at one time reached one million units a year, was transferred completely to factories in Thailand and China, closer to major markets, while production of large sport touring motorcycles was pulled out of factories in the major markets of North America and Europe and consolidated at the Kumamoto Factory.
 “Small motorcycles called commuters are produced locally overseas. However, for sport touring bikes, there is a need to develop technical capabilities in Japan and train people over the long term while maintaining a competitive edge overseas. We are trying to aggregate technology at the Kumamoto Factory precisely because Japan needs to continue being the hub of motorcycle technology,” said Fukai.
 Honda’s intentions seem to be finding their way into users’ hearts. Fukai added, “Lately, there have been an increasing number of riders coming to the Kumamoto Factory as if on a pilgrimage to get a look at the place where their bikes were born. Just the other day, we had a group of about 30 Gold Wing owners gather here from all over Japan.”
  The Gold Wing, with its horizontally-opposed six cylinder 1,800 cc engine and weighing in at over 400 kg, is the flagship of Honda motorcycles. Owners pride themselves in owning and driving this model and there is special meaning in visiting its birthplace.
 “We put factory tours on hold during the financial crisis, but resumed them last year. The announcement is only a small one on our website but we still get calls from owners asking for a tour. There is a minimum group size requirement but it thrills us that owners come from far away to visit, so we are flexible on this point [laughing],” said Fukai.
 This isn’t something unique to the Gold Wing. Other motorcycle owners, mainly those who own top models in each category like the CBR1000RR and VFR1200F, have paid the factory a visit. In one case, an international owner stopped by while on a trip to Japan.
 For the factory staff, meeting with customers and hearing stories about their products directly from the people who use them is a valuable experience. That’s why the Kumamoto Factory has been making preparations to give tours, and has begun an initiative of going to distributors to gather their thoughts in an effort to make use of customer feedback for improving quality and services.

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